Monday hearing will determine fate of city trees

Residents upset with trees being felled in advance of the Grand Prix are going into court Monday to try to prevent any more from being taken down. But both the mayor's and city solicitor's office say all the cutting is done.

A group led by Dave Troy, a software developer, is charging that officials violated city code by failing to give the public five days' warning, posting a notice on each tree that is targeted. In addition, the number of trees being removed remains in dispute.

"The deal is that if they had followed the law, the number would have been much clearer," Troy said. "A notice would have been posted on each tree. They could have counted them." The hearing is to be heard in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Grand Prix officials had said that 136 trees needed to be cut to make way for grandstands, with 139 to be replanted after the September race. The city disputed the figure, saying it had a memorandum of understanding that limited to 50 the number of trees to be removed.

Deputy Mayor Kaliope Parthemos said Friday that when the sawdust settled, only 31 trees had been felled, and no more will be cut. She said that the memorandum hadn't been signed because the number of trees to be cut kept changing. "We weren't signing it until it was fixed," Parthemos said.

Parthemos said contractors "were never supposed to take down trees till after next week, until after the MOU was signed, but contractors went ahead and got started. … What's done is done."

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for the city mayor's office, said efforts to stop the tree cuttings are motivated more by politics than environmental concerns. Troy supports one of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's challengers in the primary, former city planning director Otis Rolley.

"The work on any public property is complete, and there aren't any plans for any further removal," he said. "I'm not really sure how the injunction is related to the work.

"I'd say that this is a political football," Brennan said. "What a lot of the other Grand Prix detractors have said is that the race is not worthwhile, but the mayor is still excited about the prospect to create hundreds of jobs, bring in thousands of people and generate millions in economic action on an otherwise slow weekend."

Part of the discrepancy in the numbers might be explained in that two different agencies own the trees. In addition to the 31 trees taken down on city property, dozens more were removed from state-owned property around Camden Yards to create a pit area for the race cars, according to Jan Hardesty, spokeswoman for the Maryland Stadium Authority.

But Hardesty said that many more trees were planted elsewhere on the complex — all paid for by the Grand Prix. She said about 40 trees on the state property had been taken down. Those include trees in front of Camden Station, where there's to be a VIP section for the race. They were transplanted on the west side of the stadium.

Hardesty described herself as a "tree hugger" and said she initially was not pleased by the removals. "We're making environmental enhancements as part of this," she said.

Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

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