Potomac Avenue residents say street trees would block rare gorge views

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Residents warn that planting trees along Potomac Avenue NW would obscure valuable views of the Potomac Gorge. Brady Holt/The Current

While the Palisades is a community known for its trees, residents living along a stretch of Potomac Avenue NW are voicing rare opposition to a city tree-planting proposal for their three blocks.

Neighbors fear that street trees would obstruct their blocks’ rare and valuable views of the Potomac Gorge. The west side of Potomac Avenue is undeveloped, and large stretches between Arizona Avenue and Macomb Street NW have little to no vegetation obstructing the vista. Residents can look out across the street to the river and Virginia beyond, and benches sit at intervals to encourage pedestrians to stop and enjoy.

“It’s a view that thousands have enjoyed for decades,” resident Ed Ryan said at a recent meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D.

When neighbors heard that the D.C. Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Administration was planning to plant street trees in the 5300, 5400 and 5500 blocks of Potomac, Ryan said, they objected on the grounds that the street would lose part of its special appeal. ANC 3D voted unanimously March 1 to agree with those concerns.

“In their current state, these three blocks of Potomac Avenue offer the only such unobstructed public views to the Potomac Gorge — the expanse of the river from the Three Sisters to Great Falls — in the entire District,” ANC 3D wrote in a March 7 letter to the agency. “They are, therefore, entirely unique, attracting scores of recreational pedestrians and cyclists each day.”

(ANC 3D includes Foxhall, the Palisades, Spring Valley and Wesley Heights.)

The trees would go on the east side of Potomac Avenue — across the street from the river view — but opponents fear an impact on the views from homes and from the street’s only sidewalk.

Transportation Department spokesperson Maura Danehey told The Current that her agency rarely hears objections to planting new street trees.

“DDOT is communicating with the ANC and the neighborhood on this installation. DDOT representatives will attend a future ANC meeting to discuss further,” she wrote in an email.

Residents who attended ANC 3D’s meeting said they supported the Urban Forestry Administration’s work on reforesting the city as a whole.

But in this case, they said, trees would actually have a negative effect on the neighborhood — and would reduce property values, in turn cutting into the D.C. tax base. ANC 3D agreed that Potomac Avenue is “a worthy exception to the rule” that the District ought to plant new trees.

The neighborhood commission’s letter also states that the area already has measures in place to reduce stormwater runoff and erosion, reducing the need for trees in that location.