Rockville Residents in Uproar Over Removal of Town Square Trees

City spokeswoman: Federal Realty violated Rockville's tree ordinance by removing trees near Dawson's Market before obtaining a permit.


Federal Realty Investment Trust violated Rockville’s tree ordinance when it removed four trees along North Washington Street, a city spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The trees were adjacent to a surface parking lot at Rockville Town Square that will serve the new Dawson’s Market grocery, which is scheduled to open on Saturday. A Dawson's Market sign for the store stood partially obstructed by the trees, which screened the parking lot—and behind the lot, the storefront—from North Washington Street.

Federal Realty, which owns and operates the retail portion of the city’s downtown retail district, submitted a request to the city on Monday to amend the Town Square Forest Conservation Plan in order to remove the trees, Marylou Berg, a city spokeswoman, said in an email to Rockville Patch.

“FRIT indicated that the purpose of the removal was to improve the visibility of the Dawson's Market signage in preparation for the grand opening and to support the ongoing success of the market,” Berg said. “City staff's review of the request was under way when FRIT removed the trees on Sept. 26. The city had not approved the request.”

The removal of the trees is a violation of the city’s zoning ordinance and forest conservation plans and the city plans to respond, she said.

“Staff will also finish the review of the submitted request and consider appropriate corrective action,” she said.

Federal Realty officials did not immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Reaction to the trees’ removal was swift as word spread on Facebook.

Cindy Cotte Griffiths, a Rockville resident and former editor of the now-defunct Rockville Central blog, broke news of the trees’ removal via a Facebook message on Wednesday that included “before” and “after” photos of the property with and without the trees. (The photos are posted above this article.)

“I know everyone has been bending over backwards to give Dawson's Market exemptions to the sign rules we have here in Rockville,” Griffiths wrote. “Did they get a permit to remove all the trees along North Washington Street last night? I want the Market to be successful, but cutting down the trees so we can see the many signs does not seem appropriate or neighborly.”

Others agreed.

“Not cool. I highly doubt that was approved. It violated the tree ordinance, I'm sure,” posted Tracy Pakulniewicz.

Sean Carr took aim at Dawson’s Market’s emphasis on organic food and locally grown produce: “‘Green’ food, but the greenery has got to go – apparently. That's a disgrace.”

“Horrible, now the parking is in full site [sic]... what a shame for those trees,” Laure Lacourly Morsli posted.

“Those were beautiful trees and were starting to do a nice job shading the parking lot and providing oxygen!!,” Carol FosterHall posted on the city’s Facebook page.

Ruth Hanessian, a member of the city’s Sign Review Board called the incident “outrageous.”

Hanessian said it was “infuriating” that Federal Realty knew to apply for a permit to remove the trees, but did not wait for approval of the permit.

The Sign Review Board routinely receives requests to remove trees from in front of signs, Hanessian said.

Hanessian said that, to her knowledge, the board has never approved such a request.

As Rockville “has never been excited about having the signs more visible than the trees,” she said.

Click here to read more about Rockville’s trees.

Hanessian, who has owned and operated Animal Exchange at 605 Hungerford Drive for 33 years, said she appreciates business’ need for visible signage. But she questioned the city council’s approval of the store’s extensive sign plan.

“Dawson’s has more signs than any business in the City of Rockville,” she said. “There are actually other businesses in the City of Rockville. There are businesses that have left Town Center because they were not visible.”

Federal Realty and Dawson’s Market officials have defended the exceptions to the city’s sign rules, saying the many signs are necessary due to the store’s location in a less-visible portion of Town Square.

The trees’ removal came a day after Johnny Appleseed Day.

Crickey7 September 27, 2012 at 01:36 PM
So, until we have peace in the Middle East, we can't do anything about anything? Practice walking and chewing gum. Not so hard, is it?
Eric F September 27, 2012 at 02:15 PM
They are being removed because there will be construction equippment involved and we also lose the curb parking there for the pedestrian tunnel.
amarynth September 27, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Thanks, Eric F. I had figured as much, but was hoping I wouldn't be losing the little bit of "green space" (such as it is) I could see from my window along with much of my natural light!
Ruth Hanessian September 27, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Apparently Mr Hood had called some or all of the Council indicating he wanted the trees down.
Saul Parker September 27, 2012 at 06:23 PM
I certainly can think of several other "thngs" (human and otherwise) that warrant removal ..... vote the bums out.
Mike September 27, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Are they building another building in addition to HQ office building that is currently under construction?
Sean R. Sedam September 27, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Theresa: I've reached out to Dawson's Market for comment and will update the article when I hear something from them and/or Federal Realty.
Sean R. Sedam September 27, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Mike: I assume you're talking about the Choice Hotels headquarters. If that's the case, you might be interested in the last two paragraphs of this article:http://rockville.patch.com/articles/residents-ask-what-now-for-rockville-town-center#photo-11438836
Rockville Resident September 27, 2012 at 08:29 PM
I don't understand how Ruppert Landscape is allowed to come in every morning, making loads of noise, block off the majority of the parking for their trucks, (cut down trees and throw them in the back of said trucks) and rope off areas for hours. Every.morning!! People LIVE here too and these trees are their and my backyard. I was once looking at a parking lot with a few trees from my balcony but now I'm looking at a parking lot, Ruppert landscaping trucks and men making noise with load equipment. How much blowing/trimming/watering/scraping/cutting needs to be done?
amarynth September 27, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Yup! According to REDI, it will be two towers, one 15 stories and the other 18 stories. Here's some more info: http://www.duball-llc.com/projects.html
Mike September 27, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Thanks for the link Sean. I wonder when Duball plans to start construction on hotel and if there are any illustrations/specs for what will be built?
Peter Mork September 28, 2012 at 01:05 AM
$500? That will cover the cost of pruning a single tree. Replacing all of the trees will run into the thousands, especially if the city demands reasonably mature tree to restore the screening. (Cost + $500 might be reasonable.)
Tom Rossing September 28, 2012 at 09:04 PM
This project is "tolled" basically "banked" run aground by the building market and may never see the light of day. Ref. File #: USE2006-00699 under the city of Rockville site.
Sean R. Sedam September 28, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Becky Lakin, marketing director for Dawson's Market, sent the following statement Friday afternoon: "Dawson’s Market was comfortable with removing the four trees because the plan always included planting seven trees in their place, throughout the square. We are steadfast in our mission to always take the environment into consideration, represented in decisions like seeking out local vendors and growers as well as offsetting our energy usage 100% through wind power."
Sean R. Sedam September 28, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Robin McBride, vice president and Mid Atlantic region chief operating officer for Federal Realty, in an interview with The Gazette, confirmed that Federal Realty removed the trees without prior approval from the city: http://www.gazette.net/article/20120927/NEWS/709279818/1007/news&source=RSS&template=gazette?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter Federal Realty has not responded to Rockville Patch's request for comment.
Sean R. Sedam September 28, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Opening weekend festivities for Dawson's Market get underway in about an hour in Rockville Town Square: http://rockville.patch.com/articles/rockville-town-square-grocery-to-open-sept-29
Sean R. Sedam September 28, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Federal Realty issued the following statement this evening (posted here in two parts): "On September 26, 2012, four trees in front of Dawson’s Market were removed. The trees that were removed are being replaced with 7 new trees including 5 Crepe Myrtles, 1 Maple and 1 Willow Oak. We are working with the City of Rockville to finalize the location of these trees and plan to install immediately upon the City’s approval of the proposed plan. Additional planters, landscaping and two potted trees were added to the Dawson’s Market parking area as well as three new trees in the plaza area this summer. Upon approval of the plan, there will be a total of twelve new trees planted at Rockville Town Square this year. "Federal Realty submitted documentation of the tree replacement plan to the City of Rockville. We communicated the desire to complete the work prior to Dawson’s Market grand opening so as not to inconvenience the Rockville customer by disrupting the store’s operations and we prepared a construction schedule around that timing. We anticipated receiving the approval prior to the tree removal. We acknowledge that they were inadvertently removed prematurely based on this construction schedule. We are now working with the city to complete the administrative and approval process of the tree replacement plan. ...
Sean R. Sedam September 28, 2012 at 10:18 PM
(Part Two of Federal Realty's statement:) "... We are excited about the addition of Dawson's Market and feel they greatly contribute to the successful overall development of Rockville Town Square and commend all the dedicated Dawson’s Market staff that worked so hard to make this grand opening possible."
amarynth September 29, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Tom, are you referring to the new hotel that's going to be built in the Regal parking lot? According to the most recent Rockville Reports, they're supposed to start construction in October.
Mike September 29, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Can we confirmation that the hotel will start construction in October?
KG Cook September 29, 2012 at 08:43 PM
YOU (Granville) can focus on that other stuff ... but don't tell us to focus on other things. Trees which help combat global warming is more important than any of the things you mentioned because if we have an inhabitable earth, the other problems are a moot point.
KG Cook September 29, 2012 at 08:44 PM
and an eyes sore!
KG Cook September 29, 2012 at 09:07 PM
get over yourself and learn to have a civilized conversation without putting people down.
KG Cook September 29, 2012 at 09:10 PM
they should have just gotten rid of plastic bags all together. they are lightweight and litter the trees and go down storm drains and cause pollution... they are an eye sore and a petroleum product and therefore leach petroleum. they're no good ... why do you have to be so negative about making a change that benefits the greater good?
tree lover September 30, 2012 at 02:06 PM
It's FOUR TREES! Calm yourself. They were on private property and the landowner should be able to do with them what they want. Granted, it impacts some of the locals but very minimally. If someone else can control whether they can do thing like cut down four measly trees, what's the point of private property?
Bill Hussein O'Stalin September 30, 2012 at 06:46 PM
If the government has people who are in charge of trees sitting around that government is over staffed and has way too much power.
Sean Carr September 30, 2012 at 09:54 PM
"We acknowledge that they were inadvertently removed prematurely based on this construction schedule." This is what happens when lawyers write press releases. Inadvertently? Please. "Gee, a work crew just happened to walk past the trees and their chain saws just happened to run into each tree. Repeatedly. Whoops." Hey, it's four trees. Perspective is important. And they deserve credit for fixing up the landscaping the very same day; I think it looks pretty good. But the grocery's entire marketing is centered on being locally and environmentally friendly. When, just before it opens, the landlord chops down trees in violation of the law and previous agreements with the city, that's a slap. It is also utterly blind PR. I'm still glad to see Dawson's Market join the neighborhood and I hope it succeeds. I happily shopped there yesterday. I also hope the store and FRIT live up to the good words they said before opening.
Janis October 01, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Your "comfort" is not the issue. The law is the issue.
Janis October 01, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Because you love urban noise. Montgomery County planners have already decided that and MC Noise Ordinances are routinely violated in this county.
amarynth October 09, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Looks like FRIT is being fined $4,700: http://www.gazette.net/article/20121006/NEWS/710069997/1094/rockville-hits-developer-with-4700-fine-for-tree-removal&template=gazette


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