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HomeLetter to the EditorTo the Editor: Both Sides of Tree 'Debacle' at Town of Mamaroneck...

To the Editor: Both Sides of Tree ‘Debacle’ at Town of Mamaroneck Park

photo: Robert Herbst

To the Editor:

In a debacle, the renovations of the Memorial Park playground (in the Town of Mamaroneck) have caused the destruction of all the beautiful locust trees bordering the tennis courts.  The excavation of the sidewalk was so badly and negligently done that all the roots on the north side were cut, rendering the trees so unstable they had to be taken down.  As a result, the playground and tennis courts have lost shade and the community has lost the beauty of the canopy in the summer and the yellow the trees turned in the fall. Summer concert goers will now bake in the evening sun.

The loss of the trees is a catastrophe that was avoidable and the Town’s processes should be reviewed to avoid a repetition.  For example, if the public had been more aware of the plans, they could have pointed out the issues that would have been obvious to those of us who are in the park every day.

The killing of the trees in Memorial Park was completely preventable.  Not only were the roots visible on the north side of the trees, it should have been anticipated that trees that age would have roots extending out tens of feet.  As such, the Town should have removed the sidewalk in a manner least damaging to the roots such as with a jackhammer or pick. Instead, they used an excavator, which cut right through the roots like a guillotine.

Further, there was a lack of supervision of the work.  The minute it was seen that the roots were being cut, the Town should have stopped the work and come up with an alternative. That way, at least some of the trees could have been saved.  Instead, the work continued with the excavator and all the trees were damaged beyond saving.  In fact, the Town was not even aware of the damage until I sent the Supervisor pictures.  I shudder to think that if I had not, the Town would not have known about the damage until a tree toppled onto the playground.

The Town and its citizens should work together for the common good.  Instead, there is a lack of transparency by the Town. Regular park users were not aware of the proposed renovations until the construction fence was up.  We are still waiting for a draft of a tree code that was promised before Thanksgiving.  I have been told that there are “complicated” issues that are holding it up, but the Town will not divulge them.  Meanwhile, the cutting of irreplaceable trees is going on unregulated.  We need to move this along and start having public review and discussion.

The Town and its citizens is not ‘us against them.’  The Town exists to serve the people. The citizens want the Town to succeed, because when it fails, the consequences are horrible and irrevocable—like a sun baked park without trees.

Robert Herbst
Larchmont (Town of Mamaroneck)

Response from Town of Mamaroneck Supervisor Jaine Elkind Eney:

The new playground at Memorial Park is a necessary and wonderful improvement that will provide a safe play space for our young children.  Loss of trees bordering the tennis courts is truly unfortunate, but sadly could not have been avoided.  The design of the playground renovation project carefully considered potential impacts to existing trees located within the immediate footprint. Potential root damage to these trees was considered by Town Arborists based on proximity to the reconstructed walkway, which, due to spatial constraints, could not be relocated.  It was hoped that these trees could survive if the root systems did not substantially interfere with the new sidewalks – an assessment that could not be verified until the existing sidewalks were removed. However, that proved to be impossible.  Reevaluation by Town Arborists determined that survival of the trees was not viable.

Preservation of mature, healthy trees is a priority in all Town projects, but the trees in question were not originally planted with sufficient space for long-term preservation in proximity to park structures. The Town intends to plant new trees that will be more suitable in a recreational area.  Existing trees along Baldwin Avenue will be protected to preserve shade canopy.  We look forward to the unveiling of the new playground and the benefits it will provide to our community.



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Marlene Star
Marlene Star
March 20, 2023 8:25 AM

Shame on you, Jayne Elkind Eney! As a longtime member of the Village of Mamaroneck tree committee, I am proud of our new ordinance protecting trees. Your blatant disregard for mature trees in a public park is deplorable. In an age of rapid climate change, the value of mature trees can’t be overstated. The playground could have been downsized or located elsewhere. I sincerely hope the town of Mamaroneck passes its own tree ordinance. Clearly, you need to give trees the respect and protection they deserve.
Marlene Star

Kathryn Chen
Kathryn Chen
March 17, 2023 2:48 PM

I am very shocked and disappointed by the loss of those trees. The playground work was supposed to be an improvement, i.e. optional, and so it is frustrating that we are now left worse off overall. How do we get involved in what comes next? Can we advocate for how the trees are replaced? Perhaps we can get in new trees and maybe some low upkeep ecologically beneficial plantings.

Matt McMillan
March 14, 2023 4:01 PM

As someone who lives in the Village and does this for a living, I want to make sure everyone is clear about a few things. I served for many years on the Village Tree Committee, but it became too much of a time commitment. Myrtle Park would not have been within our prevue, but I would assume (or hope, anyway) that ToM has a similar body.
The first thing that stands out to me is that these appear to be Acer rubrum. The best news is that this is a relatively short-lived species. A few robust individuals planted in exactly the right place might live for 150 years or more, but certainly not these. This is not a tree that lives for centuries. No idea exactly how old the park is, but let’s say these trees were planted in the fifties or sixties. They were already coming into the last few decades of their expected lifespans, particularly planted with impervious barriers all around them.
That being said, it is clear that very little or no thought was given to the value of the trees themselves. I do move mature shade trees from time to time. It is difficult to put a price on individuals, due to extenuating factors, but I did attempt to do so in my thesis paper. I would put a  value of approximately $30k on each of them, and I would call that a very conservative figure. If there are six of them, that means that they were worth at least $200k.
This is indicative of the problem that I run into with Landscape Architects all the time. They do work outdoors, but most (there are definitely exceptions) have surprisingly limited understanding of horticulture and plant biology. The assessment by the Town Arborist that these trees could not be saved, and that this could only be determined by digging into the roots (thereby killing the trees) seems, at best, disingenuous. These trees could have been saved through minimal alterations to the design.
What seems more likely is that the trees were barely considered and now we are seeing excuses. I love trees, but I recognize that they are living trees with finite lifespans. I cut down beautiful ones all the time. If I had determined that the trees had to go, it would have made sense (in terms of cost-effectiveness) to make this the very first step in the project. Not to dig the foundations and then state for the record “Yeah, but we were ALWAYS going to remove the trees anyway.” Doesn’t compute.
Someone made a very bad mistake. It happens. Just be honest. The good news is that Acer rubrum is also an extremely fast species. LA’s are also notorious for saving money in the budget by planting the absolute smallest trees they think they can get away with. My suggestion here would be to plant replacements of a MINIMUM of six-inch caliper. More if you can find them. These won’t replace the lost trees immediately, but they will being to provide shade right away. My fear is that whoever is in charge of this project will elect to save the perhaps two thousand dollars on what seems like an expensive project and go with trees of under three inches instead. Tres are NOT the place to save money in a park.
I am happy to offer my pro bono to consult on this project if those involved wish to contact me. 

March 14, 2023 4:11 PM
Reply to  Matt McMillan

Well said Matt

March 13, 2023 4:51 PM

Having visited the park today and seeing all the comments posted here and on the local social media, it is clear to me that the taxpaying citizens of the TOM are horrified, saddened, dismayed, and angry at the needless destruction of the stately Locust trees in Memorial Park. It is also clear that the taxpaying citizens see this as a continuation of the TOM’s apparent indifference to the destruction of the tree canopy and their allowing the unregulated cutting of mature trees.
  Last year, the growing groundswell to protect the trees resulted in the Town’s agreeing to draft a new tree code. We were promised something last fall, but the Board has still not produced a draft. I have been told that the issues are “complicated”, but if the Board is stymied, let’s open things for public discussion. There are a lot of smart people who live here who could help bring a solution. The Town already has a Tree Committee, but it seems to be ignored.
  The benefits of having trees are beyond dispute. Being around nature reduces people’s stress and fosters new neural connections in the brain. Trees provide food and shelter for birds and insects (don’t be surprised to see fewer birds in Memorial Park going forward). They provide cooling shade and absorb carbon dioxide at a time of global warming (one commentator has suggested that the Town will need to plant 20 trees for every tree killed to make up for the carbon sequestration that has been lost from the destruction of the Locusts.)
  I have lived in the TOM since 1965 and I cannot think of a disaster equal to what has just been done in Memorial Park. We should try to salvage something good from it by making it a catalyst to finally get a tree code with some teeth to protect the trees. As Dr. Seuss proclaimed in his book “The Lorax” about saving the trees, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
  Robert S. Herbst

March 11, 2023 8:53 PM

An experienced and knowledgeable Town team would have specified that the construction company carefully use only hand tools and an air spade (instead of an excavator) to safely remove earth and concrete from around the roots of the gorgeous mature shade-giving trees that used to border the playground. The roots of the trees would not have been damaged, and our Town residents would still be enjoying the beauty of those trees.
This incident was totally avoidable and is such a shame. The Town should be required to replace those trees with mature trees of similar age, type, size, and quality.

Douglas Millar, St
Douglas Millar, St
March 11, 2023 11:30 AM

In very short order, a smattering of TOM residents have expressed many of their concerns and have posited their recommendations going forward. Still no response yet from the Town Supervisor, Town Administrator, Recreation Department, etc.. Regrettably, we now live in an era when decision makers not only shirk their responsibilities to ensure projects are planned/implemented/managed appropriately. But when something like this is so poorly handled, they refuse to admit their culpability.
As I stated in an earlier post, TOM residents expect and deserve better.
Still waiting for some response from TOM “leaders” and left to wonder if they will!

John layton
John layton
March 10, 2023 10:11 PM

The large tree across the street has the hay still piled against it which is going to rot the trunk. Which happens alot when they mulch around the trunk

June Fox
June Fox
March 10, 2023 6:06 PM

I agree—I walked that sidewalk bordered by locust trees on most days, and the loss of those mature trees was totally avoidable and thoroughly disgraceful. It is almost unbelievable that this project was handled this way. This is not the approach of any community or public servants who care about trees or outdoor aesthetics, and the response of the Supervisor was ingenuous and self-serving, and rather insulting to the intelligence of our community. The letter does nothing to explain why a new sidewalk was needed and why the playground needed to be made safer. An intelligent assessment of the impact on the trees could easily have been made before any ground was broken. The playground would look prettier surrounded by grass than it does with a new sidewalk. The sidewalk could have been carefully removed, though I never saw anything wrong with the old one. It’s just one more example among many that trees and environmental protection and aesthetics are at the bottom of the list of our town government’s concerns. This must change to reflect the desires of the residents of the community.

Jacob Levitt
Jacob Levitt
March 10, 2023 5:35 PM

The larger issue here is the canopy loss in Town of Mamaroneck. The playground debacle is merely an example of the wanton disregard for mature trees in the name of development at the hands of the Town Board, Zoning Board, and Environmental Planner. The solution here is to plan around mature trees rather than cut them down. It is to formulate a strong Tree Code that is strictly enforced. It is for citizens and the Town to stop cutting down trees on their properties and start planting trees in earnest. The Town refuses to plant new trees as they deem it a “maintenance burden.” The Town has shamefully dragged its feet on a new code, and in listening to the Town Board work meetings, what new code they propose will be as weak as the old one. Shockingly, an environmental consultant has not been a party to these work meetings. The only protection trees have is at the mercy of the Environmental Planner who is empowerd to deny a tree permit but who rarely if ever does. Sadly, Mamaroneck is not the only municipality with these challenges. But, we can turn this around. It is so easy. Truly no action is needed if we just don’t cut down the trees. 

Robert Herbst
Robert Herbst
March 10, 2023 2:57 PM

With all due respect, the Supervisor’s statement that the loss of the trees “could not have been avoided” is completely false. If the Town had used another method of tearing up the sidewalk, the roots could have been saved. Instead, the instant the Town’s excavator sliced through the roots, the trees were doomed. There was no chance for the “assessment” which she mentions. Where was the arborist when they broke ground? Where was the Environmental Conservation Planner in all this? Now what do we do? What is the plan for the planting of new canopy trees?

March 10, 2023 3:17 PM
Reply to  Robert Herbst

I can’t agree with you more! None of this was communicated to the local people. You can not replace trees of that age in our lifetime with these tiny 6 foot twigs the town plants. It’s like a bad joke. Did the sidewalk really need a full rip out/repair either?! There are far better ways to spend our tax dollars. Our town looks more and more barren everyday…it’s sad.

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