BY CHRIS CURRIE — While the Hyattsville City Council debates how to direct more resources toward restoring Hyattsville’s tree canopy, another government agency apparently believes the city has too many shade trees – or had, until last month.
A row of trees that had been a fixture of the Queens Chapel Town Center streetscape since the 1990s suddenly disappeared one day in early December, startling passersby in the West Hyattsville neighborhood and city officials. City staff had planted the trees as part of a project to upgrade the highly visible commercial corridor on Queens Chapel Road, Hamilton Street and Ager Road.
The city quickly determined that the tree removal was conducted by a contractor hired by the Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T). According to spokespersons for both entities, the county agency removed the trees following a request by the management company that runs the shopping center.
“We understand that some of the businesses complained that the trees blocked their signs,” said Hyattsville Communications Manager Abby Sandel.
However, DPW&T Public Information Officer Susan D. Hubbard stated that the agency does not remove trees to provide better visibility of commercial signage. According to Hubbard, the tree removal was approved because of safety and security concerns.
“Due to their root system, they had created trip hazards in the sidewalk area, which is where the roots mature and grow under and up through the sidewalk, disturbing the concrete sidewalk,” she said. “In addition, the trees were a security concern associated with the shopping center.”
This reporter examined the sidewalk around all 40 tree boxes in the corridor and was unable to find evidence of any cracking; however, a slab of concrete next to one of the boxes had heaved slightly, creating a one-inch lip at the adjacent slab. A few other slabs, not near tree boxes, showed similar movement.
Hubbard asserted that DPW&T was not required to give notice to the city when the decision was made to clear-cut the street trees: “As the trees were in the County-maintained right-of-way, permission and/or notice were not required.”
But of the 35 trees that were removed, only about half were on the county right-of-way. Ten were in the right-of-way on Queens Chapel controlled by the Maryland State Highway Administration, and seven were on the city-maintained 31st Avenue.
Four trees adjacent to the shopping center, all of which were on the county right-of-way on Hamilton or Ager, were not removed. And all street trees on the median and the opposite side of Hamilton Street were spared.
Four tree boxes have been replanted with tall shrubs. According to Hubbard, the remaining boxes will be replanted in the spring. “The trees will be replaced with more appropriate trees for the right-of-way within that area,” she said.
City officials expect to be part of the streetscape planning. “We’re working with the landscape architect on the replacement plan now, but it will be reviewed internally and possibly by Council,” Sandel stated.