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Developer spares 275-year-old tree


Tree huggers are giddy.

A Sykesville developer is smiling.


Because a 275-year-old white oak has been spared from the path of a bulldozer.

In an environmental victory of sorts, neighbors and county officials have persuaded the developer, Abar Partnership, to save the venerable tree located on a 4.5-acre tract pegged for residential development.

"It's something he didn't have to do," said Neil Ridgely, program manager for landscaping and forest conservation in the county's Office of Environmental Services. "He probably could have sold the tree for firewood."

Beth Trickett, a state forest ranger assigned to Carroll County, said the tree is located on an old homesite and is surrounded by agricultural land, which probably abetted its open growth. She said the tree is similar to the Wye Oak, the famous representative of the state tree -- the white oak -- on the Eastern Shore.

"It's one of the only trees on that [tract]," Ms. Trickett said of the old oak. "It's nice that the developer was willing to let the tree stand."

The tree predates much of the history of Carroll County, including the birth of Francis Scott Key in 1779 in Terra Rubra near Taneytown, Carroll's creation from Frederick and Baltimore counties in 1837, and its place as the staging ground for the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

"That tree has a lot of history," said Bill Hobbs, a retired carpenter who lives near the proposed development. "There's been weddings under the tree. Owls used to roost there. It would have been a crime to destroy it."

Benny Kirkner, a partner in Abar Partnership, said he wasn't even aware the tree existed until after the company purchased the property off Ridge Road near Carrolltowne Mall earlier this year. The previous owner had already received approval for the development in 1988.

"We went down and took a look and thought, 'Lord, this tree is really old,' " Mr. Kirkner said. "But we didn't think any more about it until Ridgely called. It's a beautiful tree."

Working with county officials, Mr. Kirkner has rerouted a sidewalk and has revised grading plans to leave the natural slope around the tree intact, Mr. Ridgely said.

Abar Partnership plans to build 12 single-family homes, most of them on quarter-acre lots. The development is called Stafford Estates.

"The community will still get a sidewalk. It's just been moved," Mr. Ridgely said.

The changes, Mr. Ridgely said, have come at the expense of Abar Partnership.

"It costs a few dollars and some time, but in the end it will be worth it," Mr. Kirkner said. "It would be a shame to destroy a tree like that. It's one of the most beautiful trees I've seen. I'm glad someone brought it to our attention."

Mr. Kirkner said he will have to hire a tree surgeon to do some work to the oak, such as clearing dead branches and removing some poison ivy that covers the tree.

"It'd be a shame to spend money to save the tree and then not take care of it," Mr. Kirkner said.

County officials such as Mr. Ridgely can't heap enough praise on Mr. Kirkner.

"We seldom see any kind of serious effort like that," Mr. Ridgely said.

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