Pushing ahead – against widespread community opposition – with plans to raze a block of architecturally significant rowhouses on West 29th Street, Johns Hopkins University officials promised to protect the magnolia trees near the century-old structures.
But community members and urban tree advocates say the demolition, underway Friday despite heavy rain, has already significantly damaged two mature magnolias at the site.
“Several large limbs have been broken and buried under rubble,” said Zoe Gensheimer, chair of the Baltimore City Forestry Board, referring to the Saucer Magnolia at 29th Street and Maryland Avenue that puts on a vivid display of large pink blossoms every spring.
Both that tree and a tall Southern Magnolia that stood behind the now-razed buildings were damaged by rubble falling close to their bases and by heavy equipment causing soil compaction, Gensheimer said yesterday.
“It’s pretty much irreversible. It’s the kind of thing that in a couple of years kills the tree,” she said, explaining that the impacted area is what’s known as the critical root zone (CRZ) of a tree, extending as far as the “drip line” or the edge of the canopy.
Gesheimer, who works with other environmentalists to prevent damage to existing trees on private and public property, was angry about how the university had failed to keep its promise.
“They had a plan. They just didn’t follow through,” she said. “Somebody needed to be there.”
Protocols Not Followed
Hopkins officials had publicly assured the community that the trees would not be damaged by the demolition.
“We will protect that magnolia tree that people are very interested in,” J. Lee Coyle, senior director of planning and architecture for Hopkins, told the Baltimore Fishbowl in February.
“It’s a beautiful tree, and we have a tree protection plan that our contractor will be obligated to follow,” Coyle said at the time.
“A tree protection plan was developed and established for the site, [but] not all of the precautions were followed” – JHU spokeswoman.
Asked Friday about the tree damage its contractors had caused, Hopkins acknowledged that the work was not done properly.
“Although a tree protection plan was developed and established for the site, not all of the precautions were followed,” Jill Rosen, director of media relations, emailed The Brew.
“We have raised the issue with the contractor, who is addressing the situation by reestablishing protection zones,” she said.
“We are also consulting with an arborist to help ensure survival of the trees.”
JHU: Rehab was “Infeasible”
Visiting the site on Friday, The Brew observed a crew from Potts & Callahan clawing down the remaining parts of the structure, now largely reduced to bricks and rubble.
Demolition of 5-19 West 29th Street was “paused” last year when preservationists and community members decried the destruction of buildings that were aesthetically pleasing and a source of housing for the community.
After reviewing the issue, Hopkins announced that demolition would proceed, saying “the size and condition of the structures makes rehabilitation infeasible.”
Critics continued to question the university’s decision to acquire the properties over a lengthy period, only to let let them deteriorate. There are no current plans to build on the site, which will basically become a patch of grass.
Earlier this week, Gensheimer snapped photographs of large branches of the Saucer Magnolia that had been ripped off by the demo crews.
The Brew yesterday observed that some protective material was around the base of the magnolia trees and a Linden tree on the other side of the lot.
A flimsy chain-link fence (with a sign that said “Forest Retention Area”) had been erected between the magnolias and the buildings to be demolished, but it didn’t serve its purpose, according to Gensheimer.
“The forest protection fence was knocked down. Basically, it was crushed by the rubble,” she said.
“This kind of neglect, after the community was assured the trees would be protected, is highly disappointing and a disservice to residents.”
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