A tree grows in Mount Vernon

Not just a home to affluent Baltimoreans, Mount Vernon is a vibrant and historic neighborhood as well as a cultural center. Mess with Mount Vernon Place — or much else in its proximity — and you are bound to stir passion and debate.

In recent years there have been people up in arms over building heights (rejecting efforts by developers to allow taller construction), an art project that erected temporary chain link fences (taken down early after an outcry) and a proposed 7-Eleven on North Charles Street (built despite the complaints that it was inappropriate for the site).

That public engagement is a good thing. As much as it gives developers fits, it's a sign that the neighborhood is held in high esteem and that residents have a deep-seated desire to protect it.

Given that tradition, it's hardly a surprise that a proposal by the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy to redo the landscaping around the public squares has raised some concerns. The plan would mean cutting down 100 mature trees and replacing them with younger ones in a somewhat altered design.

Some area residents have grown attached to the trees as they are, and that is no surprise. But it's also quite reasonable to consider how starting more or less from scratch — with new plant beds, an eco-friendly irrigation system and other upgrades — might make the public spaces even better. No tree, flower or bush lasts forever.

What's encouraging is that it's clear the conservancy is committed to keeping people informed about its plans, not just for landscaping but for restoration of Mount Vernon Place. The nonprofit group is doing a job that cash-strapped city government could not afford to accomplish on its own.

While the landscaping proposal deserves a thorough review by the city commission in charge of overseeing the project, we would hope this element of the revitalization process does not delay the most critical aspect, the repair of the Washington Monument.

Clearly, the primary focus needs to be on restoring the 178-foot tower and making Mount Vernon Place the showplace it has been for most of two centuries. The $18.5 million effort will need financial support from many sources.

But as long as the conservancy is open about its plans, continues to reach out to the community, provides greater details as they become available and incorporates modifications where appropriate, we remain confident that Mount Vernon Place can not only be restored but that this private-public partnership can be the model for restoring other notable city parks and landmarks.

That would be an tremendous achievement for Baltimore and for the proud, if sometimes hard to please, residents of Mount Vernon.

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