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Massive Oak Tree Being Cut Down in Bluemont

A developer is cutting down an oak tree thought to be more than 200 years old today in Bluemont, prompting outcries from some neighbors.

The large, willow oak tree, on the 5600 block of 8th Road N., is on a 12,000-square-foot lot that WSD Homes is in the process of redeveloping. According to nearby residents, the homebuilding company is planning on building two $1.2 million houses on the property — where now sits an unoccupied house ready to be torn down.

A request for comment from WSD Homes has not been returned. The tree was more than 100 feet tall and more than 23 feet around at chest height, neighbors said. WSD Homes had originally said it would try to preserve it, but its director of sales, Jon Ferris, changed his mind after talking with neighbors, they said.

“Ferris stated that even if the tree could be saved, people who would buy a nice $1.2 million home would not want such a tree in their front yard,” Mark Haynes, who has been one of the leaders of the campaign to save the tree, told ARLnow.com in an email this morning. “A petition asking WSD and the County to attempt to save the tree has been circulated and has well over 100 signatures including many from local tree experts and neighbors.

“Last week, when local representatives of the Arlington Tree Stewards group and others requested a meeting at the site to discuss how the tree might be saved (with WSD still able to make a profit), Ferris stated that WSD would hurry to cut the tree down to stop the discussion.”

Workers from The Care of Trees were at the house today, chopping the tree down with chainsaws and woodchippers. Several truckloads of tree chippings had already been hauled off site, with the majority of the trunk still firmly in the ground. It’s unclear what, if anything, will be left of the tree when the work is completed.

“This magnificent Willow Oak is estimated to be 180 to 250 years old and predates the American Civil War by at least 50 years,” Haynes said. “Willow Oaks are one of the more long-lived (up to 400 years) and hearty of the oaks. This particular tree was, in the view of a number of experts, very healthy and had many, many years left in it.”

Arlington keeps registries of “Champion Trees” and “Notable Trees,” but the willow oak does not appear to be on either list. Trees that are listed as “Specimen Trees” or in a Resource Protected Area have some protections on them that prevent them from being cut down. The Willow tree has no protections, said Arlington Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish.

“The County cannot stop a private landowner from taking down a tree on their property unless it is a Specimen Tree or in a Resource Protected Area and sadly this tree is neither,” Kalish said.

One of the residents who contacted ARLnow.com said it was the second-largest tree in the county, but ARLnow.com hasn’t been able to confirm its official height or how it compares to other trees in the county.

“To us, it was a magnificent tree no matter it’s ranking,” Kalish said.

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