Cabin John’s Woodland Heritage At Risk

Bob Peterson recently shared this photo of a brick from his former home at the corner of 81st Street and Macarthur Boulevard, juxtaposed with his new apartment home in Northern Virginia.   Bob and his late wife Michelle lived in this Cabin John home for 20 years where they raised a family.  Bob was beloved on 81st Street for his quiet kindness and warm sense of humor.  He took daily walks and was often seen bringing in neighbor’s trash cans or trimming and tending to the wild vines and grass along Macarthur Boulevard.  

Bob rented his home from Evan Mater, a longtime Cabin John resident and owner of several properties.  Evan was well known to the community for his love of Cabin John and in particular his efforts to conserve the trees, woodlands and the creek adjacent to his land.  He was also known for pitching in to help his neighbors–whether it was clearing 81st Street with his front-end loader during a historic blizzard or helping an elderly neighbor with conservation of a beloved tree.  

In 2022, Evan died suddenly, leaving his estate to family members who have been selling off Evan’s former home and properties, including the home that Bob and Michelle Peterson enjoyed for so many happy years. A builder, ironically named “Heritage Homes,” has recently poured a foundation for a new house to take the place of the former Peterson residence.  Heritage reportedly also has plans to build additional houses on a 2.4-acre wooded lot adjacent to Bob’s former home–one of the last undeveloped pieces of properties in Cabin John. Next to parkland and a creek, this large lot is home to a significant cluster of mature trees–several of which are over 100 feet tall–and the wildlife that depends on them.

In recent years, 81st Street has been awash with developers bulldozing the former modest homes that lined our street and replacing them with towering houses that are built within inches of county setbacks.  “Development is inevitable” is the explanation.  But with all of this new construction, we are at risk of losing our Cabin John “heritage,” including the wildlife and woodlands that drew so many of us to this special community.  In the past few years, we have seen dozens of magnificent trees on our street, including a historic dawn redwood tree and several centenarian oaks felled for the sake of the “clear-cut” look currently in favor with the builders and buyers of these new homes.  For most projects, not a single tree is left standing on the lot, dramatically altering the appearance and character of our neighborhood.   

In his departure email to 81st Street, the ever-kind Bob said he hoped that a nice family would move into the new home and have much happiness and joy.  That is indeed the heritage that we all hope for in Cabin John.  However, we now are at significant risk of losing one of the last large wooded plots in our iconic town to what inevitably will be a treeless manifestation of luxury living in the 21st century.  There are opportunities to push back on this outcome.  As a community, we should use all of our resources to preserve our Cabin John heritage.

By Sarah Craven

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