Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What happened to the footprint trees? Parks Department says replacements due only after construction

Some 86 trees have been disappearing around the Atlantic Yards footprint over the past several months as preconstruction demolition and utility work has continued, prompting some community alarm, given that the tree removal was apparently not formally announced and, apparently unanticipated in the environmental review, there are still people living and working in the Atlantic Yards footprint.

Jim Vogel, an officer in the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, said members of his East Pacific Street Block Association are concerned about 13 mature trees on the south side of Pacific Street between Fourth and Flatbush avenues, across from the planned development at Site 5. Pacific Street must be widened for what the Brooklyn Paper has called "the Fourth-to-Flatbush two-step," and Vogel says he's worried that the south side will be vulnerable. (Actually, Chapter 24, Response to Comments, of the Atlantic Yards Final Enviornmental Impact Statement, says the proposed widening of the street would not affect the south sidewalk or its trees.)

Still, the dismay is such that City Council Member Letitia James said yesterday that there should be "a moratorium on the removal of any more trees, in and around the foot print." Vogel suggested that the tree removals are a "p.r. stunt for the groundbreaking," pointing out that the announced project groundbreaking in November can only be symbolic.

"If the project goes through, take the trees down as you need them," he said, suggesting that the tree removals reinforce claims of blight.

(Photo of block bounded by Dean and Pacific streets and Flatbush and Sixth avenues, via Google Maps. Photo of tree stump on Flatbush Avenue near Fifth Avenue by Steve Soblick for No Land Grab.)

Info is hard to get

Tree removal has not been mentioned in the Construction Updates issued by the Empire State Development Corporation. In fact, when I queried the ESDC and was told to contact developer Forest City Ratner, which did not respond to an e-mail query. (Shouldn't this information have been at the fingertips of the ESDC Ombudsman and also the Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office?)

Parks Department explanation

Then I contacted the New York City Parks Department; spokesman Phil Abramson told me, "A removal permit for 86 trees was issued in March 2008. There was no way to keep the trees in place and build what they want to build there, and transplanting them would have been risky as far as survival.

I asked for a copy of the permit; I was told to submit a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. (Vogel has been distributing information on how to file such FOIL requests; I imagine that the Parks Department will receive numerous requests for the permit.)

[Photo from The Footprint Gazette, which has photos and videos from April tree removal.]

Restitution

"Restitution was set at either 328 replacement trees or $246,180," Abramson said. "They agreed to plant 116 trees and pay the remaining $159,000 in restitution. They are also planting an additional 546 trees within the complex itself, which we did not count as restitution."

Restitution, he explained, is not 1 for 1 but rather is based on the trees' size and condition. "The factor is determined by taking the diameter of the tree to be removed at 4.5 feet (dbh [Diameter at Breast Height] standard) and determining how many 3" caliper trees would fit inside that area, then multiplying by a condition rating."

Where and when?

The 116 trees, he said, would be planted "along the streets surrounding the new construction" within the city's right of way.

And when will they arrive? They'll be planted at the "end of construction," because they'd be damaged during construction, Abramson said.

But what does "end of construction" mean in the context of a project that could take dozens of years, in two official (but perhaps more) phases?

"At the end of each phase," Abramson responded. "So the trees around the arena would be planted when the arena was done, and so on."

However, if construction of the towers around the arena is ongoing, then the trees--at least trees in a specific zone--might have to wait until each tower is completed. Perhaps that question is answered in the yet-unseen permit.

As for the trees on private property, he said, "we would assume would also be [planted] after major construction had ended." (Indeed, graphics in the Draft Design Guidelines suggest that landscaping would be included as each building is completed.)

1 comment:

  1. Here's a clue: http://thefootprintgazette.blogspot.com/2008/09/heres-what-happened-to-footprint-trees.html

    ReplyDelete