Federal Realty Investment Trust is being fined at least $4,700 for removing four trees near Dawson’s Market in Rockville Town Square without getting permission from the city to do it.
On Sept. 26, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) took down four trees along North Washington Street adjacent to a surface parking lot, city spokeswoman Marylou Berg said.
Berg said in an email that FRIT, which is developing Town Square, did not have approval from the city to remove the trees.
Part of the fine was for violating Rockville’s Zoning Ordinance. That $700 fine includes $100 for the first tree and $200 for each additional tree. The $4,000 fine came for violating Town Square’s Forest Conservation Plan.
FRIT submitted a request Sept. 24 for the city to amend the Town Square Forest Conservation Plan to allow the company to remove the trees.
“City staff’s review of the request was under way when FRIT removed the trees on Sept. 26,” she said in an email. “The city had not approved the request.”
Robin McBride, vice president and Mid Atlantic region chief operating officer for FRIT, confirmed that the company did not receive approval from the city before removing the trees.
“We had submitted a plan to remove four trees and to replace them with seven trees throughout Rockville Town Square,” she said.
The trees were blocking the signs and storefront of Dawson’s Market, and they wanted to remove them so work would be finished by the time the grocery store opened Sept. 29, McBride said.
Ruth Hanessian owns Animal Exchange, a pet store near Town Square and said she was angry about the removal of the trees.
“[Landscapers were] plowing up the ground and planting little low plants so that everybody will be able to see Dawson’s Market,” she said.
Hanessian said fines are not enough to deter FRIT from removing the trees.
“The potential [fine], if it is applied, will be a drop in the bucket,” she said.
Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said she thinks Dawson’s Market wanted more visibility ahead of its opening. She said she got a call from Rick Hood, who owns the grocery store, and she guesses he must have gotten a tentative OK from the government before taking down the trees.
“Mr. Hood called me to tell me that they had the intention of taking the trees down,” Marcuccio said. “... I said it’s not my jurisdiction; it’s not my decision.”
This is not the first time FRIT has requested an amendment to the city’s rules. During their Sept. 24 meeting, Rockville’s Mayor and Council amended the City Code with a zoning text amendment to allow FRIT to put up additional signs in Town Square.
Under the amendment, FRIT may put up an off-premises sign up to 25 feet tall and up to 18 signs on existing light posts. FRIT representatives have previously said they want to use at least some of the signs to promote Dawson’s Market.
Hanessian, who is on the city’s sign review board, said Town Square needs a grocery store, but the accommodations the city is making for developers are unreasonable.
“FRIT is walking all over Rockville and doing whatever they want to regardless of what the rules are,” she said.
Hanessian said other businesses want the same sign accommodations that the city has granted to FRIT and Dawson’s Market.
“I’ve been in business 33 years, and the signs in Rockville for businesses have always been a problem, because the city doesn’t want signs to be seen,” she said.