A disabled Bensonhurst resident barely has enough room to navigate the sidewalk outside of his house thanks to an outsized tree pit created by the city’s Parks Department.
On Thursday, December 1, Assemblymember William Colton called on the Parks Department to fix the sidewalk narrowed to accommodate the sprawling roots of a large tree, limiting walking space for passersby in front of 2020 West Seventh Street. The current sidewalk is only 3.5 feet wide at its narrowest following the creation of the 37-foot-long tree pit some 18 months ago.
Homeowner Albert Vicinanza, 59, uses a walker, and he and his wife, Lauri Corace, 57, say the narrow sidewalk creates a very dangerous situation.
“Who has the most rights: The person or the tree?” Colton demanded.
According to the homeowners, the pit becomes muddy when it rains, creating an even bigger obstacle for both passersby and people who park their cars in front of it. Moreover, the sidewalk is chipped and in the tree pit, there are three gas caps above ground level, creating a tripping hazard, according to Colton, who blasted the Parks Department for not having corrected the problem.
“It’s a bad situation for anybody, let alone for someone who’s handicapped,” Vicinanza said.
Colton said he contacted the Parks Department but the department insisted that it was perfectly fine.
“They put a wooden plank for [Vicinanza] to get by. It’s incredibly insensitive,” Colton said.
“Not only is it difficult for people with a walker and a wheelchair, but also for baby carriages,” he added. “Clearly, it’s a serious danger and threat, not an inconvenience.”
Corace said she once helped a woman free the wheel of her baby carriage when it got stuck in the mud.
“The carriage started wobbling and there was a small baby in it,” she said.
Although a representative from the mayor’s office came to check out the problem about a year ago and promised to contact the Parks Department, nothing has happened, according to Colton.
“I believe the city is failing to make a reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability,” he said.
Thus, he is advising the homeowners to file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
“The city has a total disregard of quality-of-life for small property owners and it’s something that needs to stop,” Colton continued.
In addition, according to Colton, Corace and Vicinanza had been told by city officials that they could be fined $10,000 if they filled in the tree pit.
“I was offering to pay for it and they said no,” Corace said.
Colton said according to a forester, the tree’s roots are growing in all different directions and might potentially lift up the sidewalk. Corace said the tree has been in front of the house since before she was even born.
“The issue is the city has failed to develop a program to maintain the trees,” according to Colton, who said that he believes the best solution is to trim the tree’s roots and then create an average size pit.
Before the pit was installed, Vicinanza said he had made several requests to have the tree trimmed, so he thought the contractors were doing that when they showed up in front of his home, but instead he found the whole sidewalk ripped up.
“I’m very disappointed, very frustrated,” Vicinanza said. “I never thought I would be put in this situation.”
In addition, the size of the tree pit means Vicinanza and Corace have to leave their garbage in front of their neighbor’s home, and Corace throws pepper in the tree pit all the time to keep dogs from doing their business there.
“[The tree pit] makes the surrounding area look very ugly,” Vicinanza said. “It’s a garbage pit now.”
Contacted for comment, a Parks Department spokesperson told this paper, “As is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, this sidewalk measures 36 inches wide at its narrowest.”
As a result of the Million Trees initiative begun in 2007, according to the agency, the size of new tree pits has been dramatically increased to an average of 50 square feet. The curved aspect of the tree pit, according to the agency, gives additional room for tree roots as well as being aesthetically pleasing. According to the agency, workers with the department made several site visits; the last 311 complaints at the home were filed this past spring, the agency said.