Crew cuts down trees lining Gaithersburg homeowner's yard

Imagine out of nowhere, a crew turns up and starts cutting down all of the trees lining your backyard. For the past few months, a Gaithersburg woman has been trying to understand how it could happen to her -- and what she can do about it.

In the Safeway parking lot across from Quince Orchard High School, the lights are bright and the loading dock backs up to a fence that used to be lined with a thick layer of trees, which provided screening for the homes on the other side.

Now, those trees are gone and it has completely changed the landscape of Christy Mirabello's backyard.

"It's an eyesore. That's not okay," said Mirabello.

Mirabello says she had just finished feeding her daughter breakfast one February morning when she heard the commotion in her backyard. A crew was cutting out the line of massive trees along her fence.

"I'm like, 'Who sent you?' and he said, 'I can't talk about it,' and he just kept cutting the trees and lifting them out, literally, they had this big saw and in a day they were basically gone," said Mirabello.

The trees were sitting on an easement -- the water pipeline below them needed to be upgraded to service a brand new development being built nearby.

"Part of the beauty of the yard was the established trees and ambiance," said Mirabello. "The property value... we just bought our house -- there's no way it's not going to affect that... the light pollution, the noise... there's just so many things it affects."

The City of Gaithersburg held several meetings about the new site and sent postcards to alert neighbors about those meetings, but it was all approved just before the Mirabello's moved into their home last June.

Here's the thing though -- the neighbors FOX 5 spoke with Tuesday were shocked as well.

"We were very surprised," said Scott Hallam.

A spokesman says since the property was annexed from Montgomery County to the City of Gaithersburg in 2016, there have been several public approval processes and meetings that were "televised, advertised, available on our website, and in each case, the proper public notifications were made."

Another meeting is set for next week to mitigate the situation. The city says that could include planting new trees on the Safeway side of the fence, as to not interfere with the pipe.

Mirabello says she wants it back to the way it was. She also plans to bring up documents they found from the 1980s showing the tree line was a requirement to serve as a buffer when the Safeway shopping center was being built.

The City of Gaithersburg released the following statement to FOX 5 Tuesday evening:

"The project now known as The Chase at Quince Orchard has undergone several public approval processes in the City of Gaithersburg during the last few years. The property was annexed from Montgomery County to the City by the Mayor and City Council on December 19, 2016, and the Mayor and City Council approved the Schematic Development Plan (SDP) on January 16, 2018 The Final Site Plan was approved by the City Planning Commission on June 20, 2018. These meetings were televised, advertised, available on our website, and in each case the proper public notifications were made.

Both the SDP and the Final Site Plan included the new storm drain pipe on the property adjacent to the Orchard Hill community and the required tree removal necessary to construct the new pipe. We do regret that several residents were not aware of this situation (especially Christina Mirabello who moved in subsequent to final site plan approval) but all appropriate protocols and notifications were followed throughout the annexation and approval process for this development.

We sympathize with the residents who lost their buffer and now have a view of the Safeway and its loading dock, and we have facilitated a meeting on May 22 with the developer, their consultants and the impacted residents to pursue mitigation. While we won't know exactly what this mitigation will be until after the meeting, we anticipate that it will include plantings that won't damage the new pipe, new trees on the Safeway side of the existing privacy fence, and shields on the parking/loading lights to lessen the nighttime light on the adjacent residents."