Leaf us alone!
Tree-tired east Bronx locals are hoping that the city’s new Parks commissioner will offer an olive branch by changing a Bloomberg-era policy that leaves homeowners helpless to stop the city from planting a tree in front of their property.
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a tree; I love trees,” said Councilmember Jimmy Vacca. “But you should have the right to say no.”
Trees out of ‘nowhere’
Vacca’s office and community Board 11—which covers Morris Park among other areas— was hit with dozens of complaints last spring, when contractors working with the city’s One Million Trees project rattled locals by dotting the nabe with white markings on curbs.
The markings alerted homeowners and business owners that a tree would soon be planted at the location —ticking off some locals who had no interest in the trees.
“There was no communication at all,” said Bill Sussman, who protested when city-contracted workers showed up at his home on Colden Avenue last spring. “They just came in and said ‘Gee wiz,’ we’re putting a tree here.’”
The saplings were part of a citywide initiative to plant one million trees before the end of the Bloomberg era. Many locals welcomed the trees as a way to beautify the nabe. But others seethed that the city was unfairly dumping the trees on their property with no notice.
Sussman, who already has a cherry blossom in his front yard, was concerned that he would be liable for long-term damage caused by the new tree. Trees installed in the One Million Trees project are insured for two years with the city’s private contractor—but after that the city itself is responsible for maintenance.
Barking at city
Parks’ Department website encourages homeowners to water their trees as well. But Vacca, who tackled quality of life issues for nearly two decades as district manager of Community Board 10, said that he’s witnessed city trees cause mayhem to homeowners, sometimes causing thousands of dollars in damage when their roots meddled with sewage lines or cracked sidewalks – with the homeowner responsible for footing the repair bill.
“Trees are beautiful, but no one can dispute the fact that New York City for years has been negligent when it comes to maintaining our city tree stock,” said Vacca.
The disconnect between city tree planners and Morris Parkers last spring also bubbled over to businesses.
A forester with the Parks Department laid down the white dots announcing an impending tree last March outside Manuel Garcia’a Big Deal Supermarket on Paulding Avenue.
The problem? Plans called for a tree smack in the middle of the unloading zone for his trucks.
“They had no consideration of how I run my business,” said Garcia. “If that tree had come in, I would have been unable to do my work.”
Local leaders have been able to work with Parks to tackle some of the issues.
Garcia was able to convince the city to shift its plans a few feet away from his unloading zone, while the city ended up scrapping plans to put a tree in front of Sussman’s home.
Parks says that it will now email community boards a full list of upcoming plantings for the upcoming season.
But the city’s official policy remains that while it will accept any request for a new tree, “as of now, we do not accept declinations,” a spokesperson responded in an email.
Locals are hoping that new Parks commish Mitchell Silver will bring a friendlier approach.
Vacca’s also co-sponsoring a proposed city bill that would require the city to alert property owners planning to repair their sidewalk of any planned trees coming into the location.
“I’m hoping that he will reassess,” Vacca said of Silver. “If not, we’ll see more legislation.”