Hundreds sign petitions against replacing trees in Mount Vernon

More than 300 people have signed petitions stating that they oppose a nonprofit's plan to cut down and replace dozens of city-owned trees as part of an $18.5 million plan to upgrade the public squares around Baltimore's Washington Monument.

The signatures were presented Tuesday during a public hearing that Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation held on whether to approve a comprehensive restoration plan for Mount Vernon Place, part of a city-designated historic district.

A two-year-old group called the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy has proposed to raise public and private funds for a variety of improvements to the city parkland by 2015, including landscaping and repairs to monuments, but it needs the city's approval before any work can begin.

During a two-hour hearing, more than a dozen area residents and others voiced concerns about the plan's effect on parking, traffic, public events and dog walking. But the proposal that drew the most comments called for all but one of the 118 trees in and around the four squares of Mount Vernon Place to be replaced with younger trees in a slightly different configuration.

Opponents of the plan questioned the idea of cutting down mature trees and warned that the replacements would not match the majesty of the ones there now. Signatures were collected at neighborhood retailers and in the parks themselves.

"I think the proposal to cut down all but one of our trees is shocking, daunting, horrifying," said Mount Vernon resident Alexandra Ahlfield, who helped lead one of the petition drives.

"We're going to turn all of Mount Vernon into Fort Lauderdale if we start replacing the trees," warned Madison Street resident Keith Gentile.

Richard Newton, principal in charge of the project for Olin, the design firm hired to prepare the master plan, noted that more than 40 of the 118 trees are already dead or dying. He said the replacement trees would be 10 to 15 years old and 25 to 30 feet tall. He said it would be "nigh on impossible" to replace individual trees because their roots are intertwined.

For the second month in a row, the preservation commissioners took no formal action on the plan, saying they would consider it again Nov. 9. "We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to thoughtfully review and comment on this proposal," said chairman Donald Kann.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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