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Corcoran Street Ginkgos’ Removals Reveal Failure by DC to Follow its Rules

By P.L. Wolff

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

The sudden, unannounced appearance of a city tree removal crew with accompanying machinery in the 1700 block of Corcoran Street in late November took residents by surprise and unleashed furious controversy as neighbors watched what appeared to be the start of plan to take down what many consider to be the street’s crowning glory — the two rows of mature ginkgo trees.

Apparently, what put into motion this work was a request by the constituent services director in Ward 2 Councilmember Evans’ office to the city’s transportation department (DDOT), which has responsibility for street tree maintenance, that they respond to several complaints about the nuisance caused by the annual dropping of the noxious berries by taking down the female trees that are the cause of the problem.

This action, however, was in violation of DDOT’s own published procedures, revised four years ago, titled “Female Ginkgo Tree Removal Policy,” which guarantees that nothing will be done unless a minimum of 60 percent of property owners in the block concur.

In republishing its document outlining procedures, DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) states that it “has established a new policy for property owners who are concerned about the yearly inconvenience caused by the offensive odor and mess associated with falling female Ginkgo tree fruit.” Removed trees would then be replaced by male ginkgos.

Specifically, the delineated procedures state that the four criteria listed below must be met “before any determination will be made to remove the tree”:

“[1] The abutting property owner must concur with the proposed removal.

“[2] The tree must be a female Ginkgo tree exhibiting a current year fruit problem.

“[3] The heaviest fruiting trees, per block, will be considered for removal first.

“[4] No more than 20 percent of the total trees on any given block will be removed in any given year. If the problem exceeds 20 percent of the block, a removal rotation will be planned.”

If the four criteria are met, then the procedures call for the following:

“[1] Submit a petition to UFA identifying the tree(s) in question, and the name, address, and contact number of all the property owners on that block. Each property owner on the block must sign to agree or disagree with the petition, and only one “vote” per property will be accepted in the final count. If a signature is not provided for a particular address, UFA will assume that the property owner(s) at this address do not agree with the petition.

“[2] At least 60 percent of the property owners must agree with the proposed removal(s) for the petition to be considered. In the case of owner-occupied apartment buildings, a single vote from the governing body of the building will count as the vote for that property.

“[3] Once this threshold is met, UFA will forward the petition to the elected City Council Member within the affected ward, as well as the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). The ANC will have 60 days to respond in writing.

“[4] UFA will schedule the removals based on staffing levels and contract funding availability – usually within six months. Replanting will occur after removal in the next cycle’s planting season.”

As we were going to press The InTowner learned that DDOT officials have indicated that no tree removals will occur in the absence of adherence to its procedures and that they will actively engage residents of affected blocks in direct consultation.