Monday, March 12, 2007

Does the Allegro REALLY care about Columbia Heights?

(January 2006 image from
UPDATED with new information:
When walking my wife (and her brother who was in town for a visit) home from the Metro Thursday night, we walked by the site of the old Giant on our way home, like we always do. We've been watching the progress as the old Giant has come down and site prep has been done to clear the way for a new condo building. But what we saw last week certainly represented anything but "progress".

(all other photos © by me)
I was dismayed to see empty treeboxes, scattered limbs, and giant stumps sitting on the sidewalk, where there used to be 5 giant Scarlet Oak trees, all of which were more than 35 feet tall. I couldn't believe my eyes. Two of the trees were closer to the lot line, which is where the front of the Allegro will actually begin, where there was just a parking lot for the old Giant. But two of the trees were at the very extreme edge of the sidewalk in treeboxes, in line with the parking meters (still there) and city signage. I know that the developers of the Allegro will likely have to do massive infrastructure work along the front of their property to expand utilities, sewer and water pipe, and electrical conduit. So I could POSSIBLY understand the need to remove the two trees up close to the building.

But I can't imagine for the life of me why they had to remove the trees at the edge of the sidewalk. I also thought that there HAD to be laws on the books protecting the tree canopy in town and ensuring that construction doesn't eradicate them—or at least ensure that adequate replacements are planted.

Thanks to a tip from "nkatekwan", one of the many frequenters of the Columbia Heights discussion forum, I put a call into the Urban Foresty Adminstration of the District, which is part of DDOT. With a quick request for information I found out that the "request for tree removal" permit that was applied for by "Metro Allegro" for 3460 14th Street NW was DENIED.

Well, that was the initial answer from a woman in the UFA office, which was accurate according to the paperwork she had in front of her. So after ripping Metro and Allegro for 20 minutes of my lunch break, I got a call back from Ranjit Singh, who works for UFA at DDOT, so here's the current info:

Two of the trees were scheduled for possible removal by the UFA due to poor health and danger of falling. I'm guessing this would be the two trees marked in yellow on the Casey Trees survey, only one of which was close to the lot line. So their request to remove at least those two trees would have been fine, but they had to sell the UFA on why the other 3 should be removed.

Ranjit Singh told me that their office met with Metro Properties and the Allegro folks several times and they sold them on the removal of the other trees based on a few things that they pledged to do.
  1. Metro demonstrated that they would have to completely remove the sidewalk to facilitate the upgrades to the site.
  2. They proposed plans for 6 replacement trees, (3-inch saplings, according to Singh)
  3. and improvements to the soil by installing something called "structural soil" which increases soil density,
  4. And some sort of underground barriers that will give the roots room to spread out
  5. All of which will make future tree growth more stable and successful.
When I inquired about the size of the 6 replacement trees and what we could expect there, he almost laughed when I asked if these trees were going to be large in size or in any way comparable to the Oak trees.

I also asked him if it wasn't preferrable to do absolutely whatever was necessary to preserve the trees in good shape at the sidewalk edge, acknowledging that no improvements to the soil or new saplings can replace old-growth hardwoods. He said that it was, but just didn't seem feasible on this site. For what its worth, he seemed bummed out that the trees had to go. I suspect the UFA is a fairly unpopular place among developers — and they have a tough job trying to preserve the things that get in the way of a lot of development and "progress". I'll expand on it some other time, but from what I could learn from the UFA website at, they do a lot to promote the benefits of a healthy tree canopy—from a health, aesthetic AND economic competitiveness perspective, which is certainly the way to talk to developers.

The sad truth is absolutely nothing can be done to replicate what was there anytime soon and get these beautiful trees back in the ground—shading the sidewalk, removing CO2, and producing oxygen once more.

So at the end of the day Metro Properties and the Allegro may have gotten their permit, and they may be investing money in new (very tiny) trees and improved soil and root space, but they have permanently scarred their section of the street in a neighborhood that they tout and claim to "love". Somehow I doubt their devotion to the neighborhood, except to the few who have purchased a condo.

And for the record, these are the same people who initially refused to put in any space for retail on the ground floor, irregardless of the massive neighborhood support for it. Metro Properties' Jeremy Rubenstein even went so far as to post a letter stating why it was a bad idea to have retail in the ground floor. Which was funny about 6 months later when they changed their stance completely and claimed it had nothing to do with citizen feedback and everything to do with "the market" which had apparently turned overnight.

I tried to contact the Metro people through the Allegro website, leaving them a message about how dismayed I was, trying to find out why, and then telling them that when we do finally decide to buy a place in this neighborhood, we'll be sure to steer clear of the Allegro.

I got a form email back telling me "Thank you for your interest in Allegro." Gee, thanks for that. Consider this to be my middle finger raised high as I say, "we salute you, Allegro and Metro Properties".


I'll post more information as I get it. Let me know through the comments if you hear anything else about it. Also, if any of you have pictures of what this sidewalk used to look like, I'd love to see 'em or link to them. I've got some somewhere, but it'll take some digging to find them. And if someone from Metro Properties stumbles across this, feel free to clear up the situation for us if all is not as it appears. I'd love to hear it. And I'd certainly love to hear the amazing benefits of 3-inch saplings (according to Singh) compared with 18-inch Scarlet Oaks.

Here are the rest of the pictures from this morning. (Try to hold back the tears, coworkers might look at you funny.) I'd say this first one about sums it all up, don't ya think?