Neighbors rally to save cherry trees
Bethesda homeowners oppose dentist's request to chop them down
This story was corrected on Thursday, Jan. 20. An explanation of the correction follows the story.
The trees that line Sedgwick Lane in North Bethesda are twiggy and barren, but Hal Quayle knows there is magic hiding inside.
Every April, the cherry blossom trees erupt in a riot of pink, and Quayle, 79, watches the show from his kitchen window.
"It's a beautiful tunnel of blossoms," Quayle said. "We know that we will see people out there walking up and down the middle of the street taking pictures. People know to come here to see it."
It is because the trees are so well loved that Quayle and other residents of Sedgwick Lane are banding together to fight a request that would remove some of the trees to build a dentist's office and parking lot.
A special exception proposal by a Germantown dentist, Dr. Nina Aks, would knock down a house on the corner of Sedgwick Lane and Old Georgetown Road to build a medical practitioners office building and a parking lot, according to a document filed with the Montgomery County Planning Department. The proposal would also widen Sedgwick Lane to as much as 26 feet in front of the 23,000 square foot property, causing the removal of two or three of the cherry blossom trees.
Aks did not return two calls to her Germantown office for comment. Stephen Orens, an attorney for Aks, said he had no comment.
A neighborhood that prides itself in its single-digit street numbers, the houses on Sedgwick Lane date to 1935. Neighborhood history dates the cherry blossom trees to the founding of the neighborhood, Quayle said, and he has lived there and loved the trees since 1968. Residents believe the trees to be more than 70 years old.
The average lifespan of a cherry blossom tree is about 15 to 30 years, said Sabooh Hikim, forest ranger with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
It is possible that the trees are 70 years old, but is unlikely, Hikim said. He has seen cherry blossom trees command a loyal following before.
Even though the trees are old, they still bloom beautifully and deserve to be saved until nature takes its course, said Sedgwick resident Dan Press, 67.
"We haven't lost any. People say they're getting old but every year they're just spectacular," Press said of the dozen cherry trees he has admired since he moved to the street in 1976.
Though Aks's plan calls for the removal of some cherry blossom trees, she proposes to plant 24 trees and 55 shrubs, according to documents. The lot's residential zoning classification permits medical buildings in special exception requests.
Press believes the zoning regulation is intended for individual doctors who want to run a practice out of their house, not for the construction of office buildings.
"There is no difference between this building and any other office building," Press said.
The medical building would be two stories with a walk-out cellar and have an appearance that is "residential in character," according to planning documents. It would be occupied by no more than four practitioners and 15 staff members.
Quayle posted signs in his yard that read "No clinic on Sedgwick," and "Sedgwick Lane is for homes not clinics." At lease one other neighbor has also posted signs.
The Montgomery County Planning Department has received the special exception proposal, but staff has not made a recommendation. The proposal is tentatively scheduled before the Planning Board on Feb. 24.
Correction: An original version of this story stated that Sedgwick Lane could be widened by 26 feet. The proposal could widen Sedgwick Lane to a total of 26 feet.