Hampden facelift could ax its trees

Some on 36th Street want taller and cleaner foliage

April 28, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A proposed renovation of Hampden's commercial center recommends chopping down the cherry trees that line the neighborhood's "Avenue" - something that has elicited a mixed response from residents and businesses.

Some love the look of them, especially when they bloom pink flowers in spring. But others who live, work or own shops on the colorful blocks of boutiques, cafes and galleries along West 36th Street known as the "Avenue" say the cherry trees are all wrong, almost all the time - save for the week or two of peak bloom. Taller trees would better show off the street's shops and scenery, they say.

"I love the beautification," said Scott Garvey, 34, a State Farm agent whose office porch overlooks a row of small cherry trees. "But the full foliage is blocking the storefronts."

At the Avenue Diner at Elm Avenue and West 36th Street, owner Inez Robinson said she would miss the cherry trees if they were gone.

"I like the trees," she said. "It makes it look pretty."

Responding to concerns of some Hampden merchants, community leaders working with the city's Baltimore Main Streets program are considering whether the cherry trees - mostly clustered on the 800 block of W. 36th St. - belong in an improved Avenue in Hampden.

The debate has been prompted in part by plans to spend nearly $1 million on a new "streetscape" design for the corridor of cafes, boutiques and galleries, which has been the engine of the neighborhood's revitalization since the mid-1990s.

"They are inappropriate trees for a commercial shopping district," said Tom McGilloway, acting president of Hampden Village Main Street, a branch of the citywide program dedicated to improving retail corridors.

"At their mature canopy height, the trees block businesses and signage," McGilloway said. "Several businesses have asked us to look at the problem. We've heard strong opinion both ways."

McGilloway, a landscape architect who lives in nearby Wyman Park, knows that removing about 20 cherry trees without further discussion could cause an uproar. So, he said, at least one public forum will be held to hear opinions of residents and merchants before the issue is resolved.

Alternative types of trees likely to be discussed are ash, linden, London plane and red maple.

With or without the cherry trees, city and community officials say, the Avenue will receive a facelift over the next year, costing between $750,000 and $1 million under the auspices of the Baltimore Main Streets program.

Mary Pat Fannon, director of Baltimore Main Streets, says streetlights will be replaced, as will the Avenue's brown-brick sidewalk, which will be swapped with decorative "scored" concrete, under the design proposals approved by the city.

Planting new trees, she said, is an expensive undertaking - involving digging bigger tree wells - that has to be examined closely as the budget is hammered out.

The city has hired Sabra, Wang and Associates, a consulting firm, to oversee a 22-week design process. The company will produce the final written plan for the enhanced Avenue.

But Hampden residents and businesses will decide if the cherry trees are replaced, said Ziad Sabra of the consulting firm.

On West 36th Street last week, a divergence of opinion was clear.

"If it was up to me, I'd cut every one down," Ronald Morgan, 58, a resident sitting on his porch, said. "They're pretty when they bloom, but they make a mess, they track into your house, all over the rugs."

At nearby Kumbyah Inc., a gift shop and hair salon owned by Sue Ebert, the small cherry tree outside received support from Ebert and her sister, Debbie Weber.

Weber, the small business' manager, said she had recently moved back to Baltimore from Arizona. "We're used to palm trees and cactus out there, so this is beautiful to see in bloom," she said.

Farther up the Avenue at Roland Avenue, Denise Whiting, owner of Cafe Hon, expressed the local problem. "They do look very lovely, however, they do completely block the storefronts," she said. "Sometimes change is good."

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