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Avella calls on Parks to treat homeowners better over pruning

While the city is in the midst of its MillionTrees initiative, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is telling the city Parks Department to leave homeowners — who sometimes pay the price for illegally pruning trees the city owns — alone.

The senator stood under a large, shady tree in New Hyde Park Monday and spoke with homeowners about their foliage frustrations.

Vincent Ronacher said he planted a tree in front of his Whitestone home more than 30 years ago with his late wife. One weekend morning in 2009 he went out to prune the tree and a few days later Parks workers cut the whole thing down.

“She would have killed me if she was still alive!” he said.

The 63-year old retiree said that soon after he received a $1,000 fine for improperly pruning a city-owned tree. He said he went before a judge who postponed the case. Some time passed, and in February Ronacher received a statement from Parks saying he owed the department a reimbursement amount of $25,712.69.

“They take ones down they shouldn’t take down and they don’t take down the ones they should,” he said.

Avella said the department’s inability to properly maintain its trees forced homeowners to either hire a forester at their own cost or to prune the trees themselves.

“I don’t condone that because it’s illegal,” he said, adding that Ronacher’s fine was excessive. “Don’t make homeowners take action in their own hands.”

Homeowner William Boss said the long limbs of the tree in front of his house were in dire need of some selective pruning.

The tree, on city-owned land near the corner of 77th Avenue and 269th Street, had been damaged in a recent storm, and Boss said he was frustrated that Parks had not come out to trim its branches, especially given the high amount of foot traffic that passes under the tree back and forth to the nearby North Shore-LIJ hospital.

“A number of years ago, Michael Bloomberg came up with a plan to plant 1 million trees,” Avella said. “If the mayor wants people to accept trees and he wants to plant 1 million trees, you have to take care of the trees that are on the street now.”

Avella said the tree had last been pruned in 2003, and when he called on Boss’ behalf Parks refused to include it in the department’s seven-year pruning contract.

“They didn’t come out [to inspect the tree]. They just went to their files. The procedure is simply unacceptable,” he said.

It was only when he personally wrote to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Avella said, that the department committed to pruning the tree in 2013.

The senator acknowledged that Parks has a long backlog of pruning and stump removal requests and is dealing with budget cuts, but he said that under previous mayors’ administrations the department seemed more responsive. He added that he believed Parks was taking money away from its maintenance programs in order to fund tree plantings.

A Parks spokesman said the department addressed 99 percent of 311 requests in 2010 for street tree removal within 30 days, and it completed 149 percent of its annual pruning target.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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