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High-Rise Condo Residents Decry Loss of Sidewalk Trees

The board of directors for a Henry Street condo is up in arms after the city chopped down five mature trees outside their building. The Department of Parks and Recreation cut the trees down outside the 363-unit cooperative at 75 Henry St. on Jan. 17, after citing a contractor, which had been working nearby, for damaging the roots of the four Ginkgo trees and one London Plain tree. “They said there was some sort of imminent danger but we can’t understand that,” said Avillo Grillo, manager for Gumley Haft Kleier, the management company for the co-op, saying that the contractor had retained a tree expert who declared the trees to be healthy. “At the time the trees have set bud and in my opinion they are alive and healthy,” according to a letter from Don Venezia, who appears on the New Jersey International Society of Arboriculture web site as a licensed arborist. He added that one of the Ginkgos had less than an inch of “small root damage.” The letter recommended that the damaged roots should be trimmed and re-inspected in the spring. “We are pursuing the matter to get answers from the forestry division as to why the arborist said the trees were fine, but a decision was made to chop down the trees, instead of waiting it out until spring,” said Grillo. The Parks Department strongly defends their action, saying that it was a matter of public safety. “There was no dispute that the trees were alive,” said Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, but he said that the roots were severed up to a depth of three feet, and that the trees were in danger of falling. He said that a Brooklyn forestry manager had seen at least one tree moving and was concerned about the stability of the others. Kavanagh disputed the arborist’s conclusion that there was minor damage to the roots of only one tree, saying that there was “relatively major damage to all of the trees.” York Restoration Corporation was doing water-proofing work as part of a more than $1.85 million restoration project to the plaza outside the building. In the process they had to remove some “small” roots as part of the excavation, according to Fuad Issa, the project manager with York Restoration Corp. The Parks Department inspected the site, acting on a complaint from a concerned local resident, who believed the trees were being killed. On Nov. 22 the Parks Department wrote to the contractor, George York, advising him that the trees and stumps must be removed because the trees “have suffered major root damage.” The contractor hired the arborist, and forwarded the letter to the Brooklyn Forestry Division of the Parks Department, requesting a deferment until spring. However, according to Grillo, a team of tree surgeons from the Parks Department arrived unannounced to fell the trees on Jan. 17. The building manager then confronted the crewmembers telling them that the trees were still alive. The city workers contacted their supervisor. An engineer came down and ordered the trees removed. “We told them the trees are not dead but they did not want to hear about it,” said Issa. “Spring is behind the door and we asked them to give us a few more weeks. We even said that if they die we will replace them.” Issa maintains that they had been protecting the trees by wrapping them in fiber fabric and keeping the soil moist. “The Parks Department was saying that we were killing the trees,” Issa alleged. “It seems to us that somebody has a particular agenda to take this action.” The Parks Department say their mission is to protect trees but also have an obligation for public safety. “The Parks Department are there to preserve and protect trees wherever possible,” said. “But we also a have responsibility to protect the public. Where we see danger to the public we have to take action. We saw a dangerous situation in this case and unfortunately we had to remove the trees,” said Kavanagh. “It would have been better if the contractor had hired an arborist to protect the trees before he started doing work, rather than to protect himself after the fact,” he said.

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