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Clear Cutting at Mount Vernon

This columnist sounds off about the construction of the new library at Mount Vernon.

A few days ago, instead of having our regular post-breakfast argument, my wife and I actually agreed that there was a visually repulsive clear-cutting operation going on over near the Mount Vernon Estate.  I am talking about the construction of the new “Fred Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington” which requires the destruction of dozens and dozens of historic trees (tests confirmed that George regularly marked his territory on them).     

For the record, I never went to any of the public meetings hosted by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and I’ve never met any of those “ladies.”  So, I never saw the actual plans for the library.  I do recall seeing some sketches in the newspapers and if there was anything in Patch I didn’t see it because I don’t read Patch. And I knew that trees had to be sacrificed. But, for Pete’s sake, have you seen what’s going on over there?  It looks like Hiroshima!  Have you seen the construction pit and the piles and piles of trees ready to be carted off? 

Look, I know that the Ladies' Association owns all of the property and they can basically do what they want. We certainly learned that a few years ago when they tore down a bunch of trees on the other side of that same road during the construction of the new parking lot. And, yes, they hosted some meetings but…

I live in the very fashionable adjoining neighborhood called Wessynton and I know some folks went to some of the meetings. And none of them came back screaming about all the potential destruction. Maybe that’s because we here in Wessytnon (and perhaps others in other neighborhoods) as used to the Estate getting its way, despite our protests. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon saw a proposal for the “George Washington Cock Fight Stadium” commemorating that popular sport of the day.  The point is that, yes, I elected to live near Mount Vernon, but Washington’s shadow seems to be getting bigger and bigger all the time. 

So, since we can’t stop it, I think ole George owes his neighbors something for continuing to encroach on our lives. 

The library plans show a beautiful, serene spot for Washington scholars.  It looks like a place where one could have a quiet lunch or just take a nice walk.  So, what if the Ladies' Association gave each resident in the adjoining neighborhoods a lifetime pass so we could access the grounds?  Wouldn’t it be nice to walk over there, take a book and just soak in the essence of Washington?  I mean, it’s not like a hundred people would show up at one time.  Indeed, I doubt they’d get 20 people in one week. 

In fact, why don’t we get one lifetime pass each for the estate itself?  Us walking on their property does not cost them a dime and we would probably spend money at their restaurant and gift shop, so a “free” pass would get them more revenue, right?  I just think it would be a nice “neighborly” gesture, one that GW himself would have approved of. 

So, “Ladies,” why not think about it?  And we promise not to pee on the trees.

MomsUnite November 03, 2011 at 03:18 PM
Hmmm...1 post vs 11 posts repeating the same argument over and OVER. Soap box or kettle? I choose kettle to go with my broom!
MomsUnite November 03, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Thanks for the reminder Jessie. However, if you want civil and respectful comments, the tone of the "opinion" pieces should meet the same requirement. I've gone back and reviewed the many postings of this Fitzsimmons and his articles fit neither of these requirements. Peeing on trees? Nice.
DAVE November 03, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Gees, Mom thanks for the history lesson. I am well aware of the history surrounding Mt. Vernon. I did (gasp!!) go to a 4 year college. Obviously you lack either a sense of humor or common sense (possibly both).
DAVE November 03, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Gees, Jessie, I guess that whole First Amendment, freedom of speech, yada,yada, yada thing passed right by Ms. Moms. Amazing things about computers, they have an on/off switch.
Jessie Biele (Editor) November 03, 2011 at 04:40 PM
MomsUnite, thanks so much for your input and for contributing your views in our commentary. Ron's columns are intended to generate discussion among Patch readers about relevant community issues. He has a good sense of humor and it can make reading about these issues a bit more enjoyable for readers. I'd also like to add that with a few exceptions, the majority of the comments on Ron's columns have been civil and respectful despite the tone of his columns.
Jessie Biele (Editor) November 03, 2011 at 04:41 PM
And Dave: everyone's entitled to their opinion!
Jessie Biele (Editor) November 03, 2011 at 04:42 PM
William, thanks for your comments on this article and I also appreciate you clarifying things with the construction of the library.
DAVE November 03, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Oh, Jessie, you know me. I think I'm going to change my name to Mr.Snarkypants.
Ron Fitzsimmons November 03, 2011 at 08:20 PM
And, Moms...you have to understand that I am from New York and we have an interesting sense of humor. And, of course, if you do not like my musings, you are totally free to not read them. Is this a great country, or what?
DAVE November 04, 2011 at 10:29 AM
The following is the response I received from Mr. Rees, the President and CEO of Mt. Vernon: I am sorry that we have needed to clear away a number of trees and shrubs to construct our new George Washington Library. We have done so only after consulting with a third-party arborist, hired to safeguard as many healthy trees as reasonably possible. Based on our research, it would appear that this land was devoted to an open field during George Washington’s lifetime. The loss of trees resulted from several circumstances. In part, many of the specimens were in very poor condition and near the end of their anticipated lives. In fact, a number of trees had fallen on their own in weather situations over the last year before we began any construction. As you might expect, we also needed to make way for the building and extensive underground utilities; and to prepare for some “shaping” of the terrain to make the structure handicapped accessible. We have selected a site which will preserve the natural drainage, and avoid any wetland areas. Our Library has been in the planning stages for over a year, and we hope to earn silver LEED certification. We took months meeting Fairfax County codes, and have also involved the National Park Service and Virginia Department of Transportation.
DAVE November 04, 2011 at 10:30 AM
PART 2: We have plans to spend about a million dollars on new landscape to surround the Library building. The new landscape will include over 800 new trees, almost all native to this region, which will return the area to a healthier look and feel of a forest. It will also help to screen the library building from drivers and walkers along Rt. 235 South and Rt. 235 North. I have met with representatives from the surrounding neighborhoods (particularly Wessynton) in about ten different sessions, and we have often followed their advice. A number of people were terrified when we cut trees and dug a huge hole in 2005 for the Museum and Education Center. But once all was said and done, we met our promises and created some beautiful green spaces. I think in this case, the finished product will be equally successful. The Library will become the central place to conduct George Washington research, and will be used by about 35 employees who are currently housed in other buildings on the Estate. It will have a very small number of visitors, mostly scholars and historians, and will not be accessed by our one million visitors. We are hopeful that we will also be able to organize a number of leadership conferences, but most conference attendees would park in existing lots and walk to the property. An outside firm has confirmed that it will have little impact on traffic.
DAVE November 04, 2011 at 10:35 AM
This seems to make me feel better about the entire issue. I have to say though spending that kind of money for 35 employees as well as historians and scholars seems ludicrous to me. Just makes me want to re-think all those donations I make. Just feels like one of those "hey look at us kind of projects."
Ron Fitzsimmons November 04, 2011 at 02:28 PM
That's an interesting response from Jim, who I personally like. It's just too bad that he didn't throw the neighbors a verbal bone like "we are sorry that this is disrupting the neighborhood and changing its character a bit, but we did have meetings, etc., etc." I just dont feel the love, ya know???
Ron Fitzsimmons November 04, 2011 at 02:30 PM
I guess what I dont understand is that if they are going to have a "very small number of visitors," why did they have to build the darn thing over there? Couldn't they have done something on the current property like they expanded over there a few years ago?
Beth Jarvis November 04, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Ron...I'm a mom, who doesn't "unite" with the earlier mom's comments on your musings. I love your columns and eagerly anticipate them each week. I'm always curious to see what topical local issue you're going to write about next and I think you do a terrific job of offering your viewpoint in a satirical and entertaining manner. Keep up the excellent work!
Ron Fitzsimmons November 04, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Thanks, Beth! I expect people to disagree with me. And that's cool as long as we remain civil. Hell, I can't always be right...
Jessie Biele (Editor) November 04, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Pat, Your comment has been deleted as it violates Patch's Acceptable Use policy.
Keith Whited November 05, 2011 at 02:12 AM
OMG - - Look at all the fun I've missed this week!!! I've been too busy to pay attention. Anyway Ron - like Beth said . . . Keep up the excellent, snarkiness and all that goes with it. Looking forward to next weeks article.
Ron Fitzsimmons November 05, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Thanks, Keith. I'm still trying to figure out what "snarky" means...
Keith Whited November 06, 2011 at 12:12 AM
2. snarky 4951 up, 1366 down March 26, 2007 Urban Word of the Day A witty mannerism, personality, or behavior that is a combination of sarcasm and cynicism. Usually accepted as a complimentary term. Snark is sometimes mistaken for a snotty or arrogant attitude. i.e. His snarky remarks had half the room on the floor laughing and the other half ready to walk out. BTW - - I think 'Moms' is in the half thats ready to walk out . . . hey Moms, don't let the door hit ur B### on the way out! :-) Whoops - - I hope I wasn't being too snarky there. . . snarky 2218 up, 691 down Adjective - Any language that contains quips or comments containing sarcastic or satirical witticisms intended as blunt irony. Usually delivered in a manner that is somewhat abrupt and out of context and intended to stun and amuse. Origin: Snark="snide remark". Evelyn always called attention to the proverbial pink elephant in the room with her snarky comments.
MomsUnite November 08, 2011 at 03:12 AM
You definitely are an amusing bunch of grumpy, old men (w a few ladies too). I'll give you that. Thanks for the definitions. When I use words, I tend to make certain I know what they mean. I'm also a native New Yorker so it sure is a great country and snark has it's place but a great opinion it does not make. Yes, I understand this is opinion column and I'm all for freedom of speech or I wouldn't have engaged in offering my own thoughts. What I think makes an opinion piece more interesting is when the author does a little research (ie your uniformed comment re the parking lot) and can make educated comments versus jumping up and down like a petulant child shouting, "no, no, no! Not fair!" I'm certain many do not know that when you stand on the veranda of the Estate and look out towards the river, you can credit the view with very little construction to the conservation efforts of the Ladies of Mt. Vernon. They made certain that on the land within site, no further building could take place. I wonder how many trees and woodland creatures this one action alone saved. I don't like the idea of portraying the Ladies as some faceless corporate bulldozer giving no thought to the decisions made. You can dislike the decision but there is plenty of real evidence that points to the fact that the Estate is represented by a concerned and thoughtful citizenry as well. The library is not a NIMBY issue. It's their backyard. They own it. I like free speech AND personal liberty.
Keith Whited November 08, 2011 at 03:54 AM
Dear Mom, So, if I understand you correctly, the Mt. Vernon ladies preserved *their* view from the estate as they gaze peacefully across the river - - it's just the neighbors view that they don't care about. You see, the library IS in THEIR *back*yard, but they made sure to preserve the view that's important to THEM - - the one that's most visible from the estate itself. Unless they bring their laptop and Google Earth to the veranda I don't think they'll be able to see the library from there . . . just sayin'! Your Devoted Untied Son ~ ~ ~
DAVE November 08, 2011 at 11:20 AM
I'd like to know who to contact to prevent those trucks from coming down residential streets.
Ron Fitzsimmons November 08, 2011 at 12:09 PM
Moms, where are you from in New York? I'm from a town called West Islip. I totally get it is their property but, just like you and me, we all should strive to be good neighbors. I mean, I wouldn't construct a large orange shed in my backyard for fear of offending my neighbors. Plus, I dont like the color orange and I wouldn't know who to construct a shed if my life depended on it. But, yes, they have the right to do what they want. Don't remember my "uninformed comment" about the parking lot but I certainly strive to be accurate. My bad, as my kids say. Thanks for your feedback. But please don't call me a grumpy ole man, that really hurts :)
Ron Fitzsimmons November 08, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Dave, I don't know how you're gonna prevent trucks from going through some neighborhoods but, as always, I'd probably start with Hyland's office. Since you got stuff from Brett on this already, you might just wanna ask him...
Jessie Biele (Editor) November 08, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Hi Moms, Thanks so much for your insight on this issue. I know it's been a point of contention for a lot of residents and I appreciate you offering your thoughts on this issue.
Sabrina Campbell November 09, 2011 at 05:22 AM
All I am going to say - and I stopped reading as the comments became absurd is that the land isn't yours - it belongs to the Mount Vernon ladies. As far as I am concerned - without all they have done, we may not have such a lovely historical landmark in our area that brings money to our local economy and a beautiful tribute to our first president. They bought the land - they bought the property - it is their decision what they do with it and they shouldn't need to ask our permission. It is not your backyard if you do not own it. It should not have to be made into a public park or free space for the residents of the area - it is land that this association uses to make money and to expand the attraction that is Mount Vernon - I am sorry if you don't like it or if you think it isn't fair, but when you run a business, you need to do what you need to do. I think it is considerate of Mount Vernon to plant more trees and to do their best to make it beautiful and a nice addition to the area - if you want to complain about things that are real eyesores in our community, I am not sure you need to start there...just sayin'
Ron Fitzsimmons November 09, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Sabrina, I totally hear what you are saying about them owning the land. All I at least was suggesting that they could be just a little more sensitive to their neighbors. It's the same I would ask of my neighbors next to my house. Indeed, they recently came to us to ask if we'd be okay with them building a shed in their backyard. Indeed, I'm sure if you were going to do something with your property or your business that might impact on your neighbors, you would have reached out to them at the beginning. I guess I should have titled my piece "Can't we all just Get Along?" whould
Sabrina Campbell November 09, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Ron - I get what you are saying - my comment was more directed at the other comments here that seem to forget that they can do as they please because they are the owners. It was not you who suggested that they build a public park on that space. I feel people get overly angry and foget the benefits and the good that the ladies association has done at Mount Vernon. It's funny that your neighbor asked you if it was OK to build a shed in his backyard - I would never ask my neighbors permission to do that. They don't pay my mortgage or the taxes on my land and if I need a new shed, so be it. It was a nice courtesy from your neighbors but in my opinion unnecessary. Occasionally my neighbors do things I don't necessarily agree with but it is their house and their land and I mind my own business and they mind theirs. I prefer it that way. We are friendly to each other and our kids play together but I don't butt into their business - Different people will see this differently, but that is how I see it. I just don't see the point in the anger that some feel about it. So bottom line, my comment wasn't really aimed at you since I know this column is for the expression of your opinion.
Sabrina Campbell November 09, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Oh - and one more thing - that is why I live in a neighborhood without a Homeowner's Association - I hate them and I would hate being told what to do by them. If I want a red door, it is my business.

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