Local Commentary

F.C. City Is Defiling My Property With Its ‘Improvements’

Eleventh Street takes a break between Tuckahoe and Underwood Streets in the City of Falls Church, and the stub-end portion west of Tuckahoe serves as a driveway for both myself and my neighbor.

My family has occupied our property, south of 11th St., for over 100 years. Around 80 years ago the City decided to abandon that portion of 11th St. as a right of way — it would never become a through street — and gave back the southern half of it, between Tuckahoe and Underwood, to my family. We’ve paid taxes on this narrow strip of land, one short block long, ever since.

Around 50 years ago the City decided to put in a paved pathway, about three feet wide, connecting the western end of our driveway with Underwood, and it’s become a frequently used passage for neighborhood walkers. I have maintained my strip of land along the pathway, with a lawn and azalea plantings that border the path.

The remaining abandoned portion of 11th St. north of the pathway belongs to the City, but the City showed no interest in its maintenance — until very recently. It was left to become overgrown with weeds and trash trees until my then-neighbor on the other side (whose house faces Underwood) and I decided to do something about it, more than 40 years ago. We cleared the brush and put in plantings. I planted a row of Japanese cut-leaf maples (the kind with red leaves) along the north edge of the path. My neighbor put in hostas and a variety of shrubs, many of which did not last. I put in several yucca plants. Periodically, I stored firewood on the portion closest to the driveway.

The City’s sole interest in the pathway over the years was manifested only once, when it received complaints from walkers that the asphalt paving the pathway was buckling from tree roots and crumbling. The City repaved the path. Just once.

My driveway ends where originally the City had planted wooden posts. Although the posts rotted away with the years, a white mulberry tree sprang up next to the post adjacent the pathway.

Nonetheless, on several occasions attempts were made to drive cars from Underwood up the pathway, on one occasion damaging my parked car. So I piled the largest stones I had, as well as several chunks of concrete, at the corners of the entrance to the pathway from the drive. Despite that, I later found small pieces from a car next to a knocked-over pile of rocks.

Recently I went out to get some of that firewood and was stunned by the change to the strip of City land.

The maple trees were still there, but everything else – all the plantings – were gone. In their place, a bed of wood chips. Then I looked at my strip of property, on the other side of the pathway. The azaleas were still there (albeit a couple were severely trimmed), but the wild rose bush was gone — and so was my lawn, covered with wood chips.

Then, a few days later, I found a card on my porch, left by Jeremy Edwards, “Green Space Manager,” F.C. Department of Public Works. On its back was a handwritten message asking me to move my car for a day so “work on the trail” could be done. I called him and found that the “work” was to remove the white mulberry tree that stood at the eastern entrance to the pathway, and a “honeysuckle bush” which had served nicely as a divider between the drive and my neighbor’s yard, and offered summertime shade to my car. These were, I was told, “invasive” plants. I guess my wild rose and the yuccas were, too. Edwards also admitted to cutting down the wisteria I’d trained to climb the mulberry tree.

Edwards professed surprise — but verified — that I owned the strip of land south of the pathway, which he had been treating as City property. I asked him why no one from the City had consulted me or any of my neighbors about this work. I was contacted only to move my car (which I did). He had no direct response to my question.

Subsequently, I was asked once again to move my car so that the stumps could be removed. They were — along with my piles of rock and concrete, replaced with several small boulders. They make parking there a bit trickier, but are not unattractive.

For at least 50 years the City had no interest in this small strip of land. Now, suddenly, and without warning, it has decided to “improve” it by aggressively re-landscaping it. Thus far that has consisted of reducing things to a barren wasteland, covered with wood chips and some large rocks.

I am stunned by the arrogance of Mr. Edwards and the City.