The fight to stop city agencies from cutting down 67 beautiful trees as part of the Pelham Parkway reconstruction is gaining steam.
The big number was, for many weeks, at 87, but as of Friday, August 20, the latest figure was 67 trees set for removal by the NYC Department of Design and Construction.
Twenty of those trees are being cut because they are “mature,” meaning they have reached their maximum height, and 47 are going because they interfere with a new guardrail being installed.
However, activist George Zulch, a dentist from Narragansett Avenue, said that due to a new sewer being installed as part of the project, residents fear that even more trees, separate from the 67, will be killed by careless contractors.
“Realistically, when they start working and banging into trees and bringing in big machinery,” Zulch predicted, “they will kill additional trees on the service road that they don’t count among the numbers they’ve given.”
Zulch said that he and members of the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance, newly formed in the wake of this news, want written, legal safeguards in place that will guarantee that the city work carefully, and in many cases “use hand and shovel” as opposed to heavy equipment.
“The big focus and concern now is root damage during construction of the roadway, and damage to the trees in a delayed effect,” he said. “They’re digging up the whole parkway, and that will mean many, many trees dying. It’s going to be deceptive to the public, because they’ll look and see all the trees still there, but then in a couple years the trees damaged by the construction will die, and it will be too late.”
Zulch has sounded the alarm and in the process, recruited to the cause some big names like former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and television’s Regis Philbin.
Stern, who now works for New York Civic, said that if not for Zulch, he’d have never heard about the city’s plan. He backs Zulch’s concerns over the work being done carefully, and is equally concerned about a new sewer line going in under Pelham Parkway South.
“Someone has to stand up to ensure that installing the new sewer doesn’t injure any of the hundreds of trees planted there,” said Stern. “This can all be avoided if they’d build the new sewer tunnel inside the old tunnel. There are ways of building a sewer without tearing up the ground and ripping up tree roots.”
Stern praised Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to plant one million trees in the city, but added, “If the plan is to plant trees, why cut down hundreds? That’s backwards.” In addition, he stated that trees being “mature” is not a good justification.
Philbin, who grew up near Pelham Parkway and first mentioned the project on Live with Regis and Kelly after seeing Stern’s letter. He defended the trees further in an interview with the Bronx Times.
“I don’t blame all the people who are upset,” he said. “How could it be that 87 trees are going to interfere? It’s only 2.3 miles! I’m just kind of sick over it because it’s so beautiful, and I was so proud when, a couple of months ago, I drove down back from New Rochelle, and got to go by there again.”
Finally, Philbin said that he sees Stern as a powerful figure in the fight. “He’s a tremendous voice for this because of who he was, and his association,” he said. “This is the guy, we need this guy!”
Zulch said that the city’s promise to plant 246 saplings is not good enough.
“When you apply the math, anywhere from 100-200 saplings equals only one mature tree,” he said. “They’re so proud of that, but as Henry Stern has said, it’s like replacing a redwood with a toothpick.” DOT still has not been specific about the exact types of saplings they will plant, but Zulch said an arborist told him they will be a variety of species, mostly little-leaf Lindens.
Dante Barozzi, a resident of Tomlinson Avenue, suggested one solution to the entire chaos: make the Parkway two lanes on each side.
“If they would just reduce Pelham Parkway to two lanes on each side, north and south, we could not only save the trees but could plant more in the freed space.
Stern, in considering this idea, said that he could not imagine such an idea working, though he did ask why cars should be given favor over trees. Both he and Zulch suggested the guardrail just have some gaps to allow for the trees, rather than being one continuous, unbroken line.