Trees fall, tempers rise in Hampstead development


HAMPSTEAD -- Where he once saw green, Jim Eskew is

seeing red.

The view from his backyard was a lush row of old trees, but now he looks out onto a sea of town houses.

Tempers are flaring at the Roberts Field subdivision at the south end of town, where Eskew and his neighbors on Trapper Court are mourning the loss of 15 to 20 trees that developer Martin K. P. Hill had chopped down last week.

Hill said the trees interfered with grading the hill to build condominiums or apartments.

"It takes so long for trees to mature," said Barbara Thomas, Eskew's neighbor. "If you've got them, leave them."

Eskew and three of his neighbors are particularly angry because they said they paid premiums for lots that looked out onto the trees. He said he paid an extra $750 and chose his lot in the center of Trapper Court's cul-de-sac specifically for the tree line, which he was told would remain.

Hill said the residents are mistaken. The premium was for a larger lot, he said. Eskew, however, said his real estate agent was a witness and he'll insist on getting his money back.

"We do not remove any trees unnecessarily," Hill said buyers were told. "We only remove those trees necessary to accomplish the grading or utilities or whatever."

Eskew is an excitable South Carolina native who admits to a degree of rowdiness, which he has frequently directed at Hill. He is a former Marine discharged on a full pension after he was disabled by a severe electric shock. Most of what he has to say about Hill is not printable.

JTC "Jim is the one who will butt heads with him," Thomas said. "Everyone else backs away."

Roberts Field residents said they suspected that Hill chopped down the trees to beat the impending passage of a reforestation ordinance. But the development would be exempt from the ordinance because it already has town approval, said Neil Ridgely, the county's landscape and forestry plans reviewer. "He probably was entirely in his rights to do this," he said. "It's just a damn shame."

There are few trees lining the new, wide streets at Roberts Field, where the tallest things are the 438 houses, town houses and condominiums that Hill has built in the past two years. Another 400 or so homes are planned.

Thomas said residents had previously taken comfort in having the trees as a buffer between them and the condominiums they always knew were to be built on the other side of the wooded strip.

Eskew and Thomas said other neighbors are just as angry, but hesitate to raise a fuss and risk losing favors from Hill.

For example, one woman upset about losing the trees got Hill to put another six or seven on her property, they said. Hill also moved a small tree onto Eskew's yard as a consolation.

While the Thomases didn't pay a premium for their lot, which doesn't back up against the trees, they will miss seeing the green branches sticking out from behind the homes across the court from them, Barbara Thomas said.

She said she has become disillusioned since moving from Hunt Valley just more than a year ago. Other problems she and her husband, Wayne, have had include ambiguous property lines and poor landscaping, she said.

"You go to these places, see these homes, and it's this nice little picture," Thomas said of the development's sales pitch. "When you get in, it's not what it seemed."

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