Disabled man fights city over unwanted tree

Disabled man fights city over unwanted tree
Bill Sussman stands outside of his home on Colden Avenue, where the city will plant a tree he doesn’t want as part of the NYC parks department initiative “MillionTreesNYC.”
Photo by Kirsten Sanchez
Photo by Kirsten Sanchez

For some people, planting trees brings beauty to their neighborhood, but for large numbers of homeowners, it can be a costly nightmare.

Morris Park resident Bill Sussman said he is perfectly happy with his garden — that includes a tree — in front of his home, and does not need another one to take care of.

He isn’t the alone.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca said Sussman is one of a dozen residents in his east Bronx district slated to get a tree from the city they don’t want.

Vacca said he was enraged when he learned that residents were having trees forced on them.

Not that he doesn’t support a city push to go green with the air cleansing trees, but because homeowners have to wind up paying the bills when the tree roots crack their sidewalks or break their water and sewer pipes below.

On top of that, the city simply plants them without giving the homeowners any notice.

He said he was also upset because the city is prioritizing planting more trees instead of removing dead ones, pruning others, or removing stumps and fixing sidewalks that they have ruined.

Vacca recently contacted the Parks Department and asked them to hold off on planting any more trees for now.

“I have insisted that the Parks Department re-assess their plan to plant trees at these locations where homeowners have objected,” said Vacca.

“Our city has so many empty tree pits, dead trees, and stumps that should be removed and replaced with new trees. If homeowners choose not to have a tree planted in front of their home, that should be their choice,” said the councilman. “If the city wants to plant more trees, which is a goal I support, we do not need to force homeowners to take one on their property when they do not want one.”

Sussman, a retired senior said he was blindsided when he found out he was slotted to have a tree planted in front of his Colden Avenue home as part of the citywide “MillionTreesNYC” restoration project.

The public-private program is a Parks Department initiative to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next decade.

“We all noticed the markings on the sidewalk but we didn’t know what they were for,” Sussman said. “We thought they were from ConEd. Then I saw a guy with a drill outside my house and I went to ask him what he was doing.”

Sussman said the man turned out to be a Parks engineer, who handed him a letter informing him the city would be planting a tree in front of his home as part of the project.

If the tree is planted, it would cut the width of the sidewalk in front of Sussman’s home in half, leaving only a narrow path for people to walk by, and very little room to get in and out of a car parked on the street — a problem for Sussman, who needs a walker to get around.

“We already have a tree and a garden in the front of our house,” he said. “We don’t need another tree, and then we’re going to have to be responsible for watering it.”

Sussman said he is also concerned that the roots from the tree will damage the side walk he recently repaired. He also worries that tree bed will become a spot for people to throw their garbage and cigarette butts, as well as a stop for their dogs to relieve themselves.

Community Board 11 district manager Jeremy Warneke said he contacted the Parks Department on Sussman’s behalf, but was told there was nothing that could be done — he would be getting a tree whether he liked it or not.

“There is nothing really we can do about it,” Warneke said.

A Parks spokesperson said a trained arborist personally evaluates every proposed planting site and chooses an appropriate species of tree.

“New street trees are planted far enough apart to ensure long term health and longevity, and are 2.5 inches in diameter, providing room for passengers to get in and out of vehicles,” she said. “While we welcome any request for trees to be planted, we do not accept declinations.”

She noted that since the program began in 2007, Parks has begun new planting techniques to make trees “less likely to uproot sidewalks.”

“Nobody ever asked me if I wanted this,” Sussman said. “It is just going to make things difficult for me, trying to get in and out of vehicles and walking in front of my home. On top of that I am responsible for watering it, and taking care of it.” But a Parks spokeswoman insisted the agency “maintains and cares for all street trees.”

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at ksanchez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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