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In 1987, William B. Johnson, then-director of the D.C. Department of Recreation, sent a letter to Etheline Smoot of 3056 M St. SE, detailing plans to “erect a retaining wall…adjacent to the Pope Branch Park to prevent further erosion of your rear yard.” Kenneth Pope, the house’s current owner, is still waiting for that wall. “Every time it rains, I have to check to see if all my stuff is still in the back,” says the 58-year-old retiree. Pope’s “back” is a 3-foot-wide strip of mud—the rest of the yard drops at a near-right angle into the park’s dark, vine-ridden interior. Houses throughout the block have similar problems. “We probably have not taken good care of [the park] during the past 20, 30 years,” says Michael Lucy of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Lucy says engineers are studying the soil—but regardless of the erosion’s cause, Pope wants to renegotiate his property assessment. “How can you tax something,” he wonders, “that’s not there?”—John Metcalfe