Some call it beautification. Others might call it botanical eminent domain.
On May 2, Brooklyn Assemblymember Dov Hikind publicly sounded his objection to the city’s continued tree planting campaign around the city, citing calls received from constituents who were surprised by trees suddenly encroaching upon their sidewalks.
Hikind represents the 48th Assembly District, which encompasses areas of Midwood and Borough Park. In his press release, Hikind says that he supports the city’s efforts to beautify the city, but that the choice to plant a tree should be the homeowner’s, not the municipality’s.
“I’m very much in favor of New York City’s beautification efforts, which will prove to be environmental(ly) and aesthetically beneficial,” said Hikind.
However, he added, “Watering, the cleaning of falling leaves, tree limbs and debris as well as potential liability issues due to damaged and lifted sidewalks are now the responsibility of the homeowner,” said Hikind. “In addition, a planted tree may result in a narrowed sidewalk.”
The assemblymember has penned a letter to Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, requesting that homeowners be able to refuse a tree.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation categorically challenged some of Hikind’s claims. An agency spokesperson told The Home Reporter that the Parks Department does not fine homeowners for sidewalk damage caused by the trees, and pays for sidewalk damage caused by tree roots through a free program offered to one to three-family homes.
According to Parks Department statistics, the city’s Trees and Sidewalks maintenance program has received $39.34 million in funding, and spent $33.3 million to date. Of 60,580 repair requests received, 28,213 have been considered high-scoring sites, and 15,321 of those have been repaired. The Parks Department says it will cost $32.2 million more to repair the remaining high-scoring sites.
In addition, the Parks Department webpage says that the city planting contractors remain responsible for primary tree care for the first two years after planting, although homeowners are encouraged to participate. Hikind’s press release did not mention if constituents have received continued maintenance for their trees.
According to the MillionTreesNYC website, over one million trees have already been planted within the city including 220,000 on the street.
The city’s MillionTreesNYC was an initiative spearheaded by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Prior to the program, homeowners could request a tree free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Now, according to Hikind, many residents only discover they are getting a tree after workers have come to cut their sidewalks to make space for the saplings.
“The fact that people were not aware that trees were being planted until their sidewalk was marked and cut is simply wrong,” said Hikind, who has requested that trees only be planted if homeowners have asked for them.