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Controversial Elm Gets Olive Branch


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Treegate 2010 has come to a close.

City Councilman Charles Samuels withdrew his proposed ordinance May 24 to use city money to remove a massive American elm near Floyd and Plum streets — despite a city moratorium on such discretionary removal.

“I didn't want my 80-year-old neighbor to have a heart attack,” says resident David Robinson, the man behind Samuels' proposed ordinance. “There was no way in the world that I was going to let the divisiveness continue.”

Robinson had argued that the tree's roots were infiltrating the foundation of his nearby house, damaging his property and tripping pedestrians. He'd told Style Weekly that he'd issued handmade stop-work orders to a city crew set to grind the tree's roots, consulted a structural engineer to issue a report on the tree and lobbied neighbors on the tree's hazards while taking issue with what he perceived as the city's inconsistent tree-removal and -planting policies.

But some nearby residents came out against Robinson at a City Council meeting in March, defending the tree as a beloved icon of Plum Street. Edmond Conway criticized the engineer's report for a lack of numbers, and neighbor June Hazlehurst praised the tree for its perceived penchant to damage cars and trip Virginia Commonwealth University students.

Robinson says he asked Samuels to withdraw the proposed ordinance because he didn't want to further incite his neighbors. Physically, the resolved controversy is evident in the new bricks — set at a visible incline — patching over the tree's expansive sidewalk roots, which had been exposed.

“We fixed the tree well to eliminate any tripping hazard,” city spokeswoman Sharon North says. The tree “will be pruned later in the fall,” she adds.

According to documents obtained by Style, the tree rated an eight out of 12 on a city-conducted hazard assessment but was not recommended for removal by city arborist Luke McCall.
“I challenged Luke,” Robinson maintains. “They pulled the ivy off of it, they did borings, and they still pronounced that tree as healthy.”

Robinson says he has no complaints about how the city handled the tree situation. But of his new brick sidewalk, there's only one problem, he says: “There's a big tree in front of it that's going to fall.”


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