City and Queens officials are under siege by conservationists following last week’s removal of about 10 mature cherry trees from land behind Borough Hall.
Initial published reports quoted city officials as saying the trees were removed to allow access for heavy construction equipment that will be used in the construction of a multimillion-dollar atrium behind Borough Hall.
Later statements said the trees were removed because the were diseased.
Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates blogged about the construction over the weekend, when he first learned of the trees being cut down.
“These are older trees, mature trees, some more than 40 years old and more than 30 inches in circumference,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. He added that all but perhaps one tree appeared healthy to him upon visual inspection.
The trees, which were in full bloom when they were cut down, were a favorite for visitors to the area, and even brides and wedding photographers who like them for background shots.
Croft said he could not find a required city permit to remove the trees posted at the work site. He said Borough Hall’s change of tune, and the fact that most tree diseases do not require cutting trees down, convince him that the decision was construction-related, and that city officials have been pressuring subordinates to change their stories.
“You can say every tree is diseased if you want to look hard enough,” Croft said.
In an email from Borough Hall, Dan Andrews, spokesman for Borough President Helen Marshall, said the trees will be replaced eventually with small shrubs.
“We were told by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services that the trees were diseased and that bringing in large pieces of steel and heavy equipment made it necessary to cut down the trees providing the shortest and safest route to [the]courtyard construction site,” Andrews wrote.
He added that Marshall has asked DCAS to have an arborist come to the site and perform a checkup on the remaining trees in the area to determine their health
Croft remains unimpressed. He has contacted DCAS in search of any report or source the the department may have relied upon in making the decision to cut the trees down to show that the decision was done for anything more than convenience.
“If you don’t get the report, you can’t believe anything that comes out of that office,” he said.
Messages left at DCAS by the Chronicle were not returned.
Croft and Michael Perlman, chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, said there are ways to relocate even large, mature trees.
“If you have an interest in doing it,” Perlman said. He expressed disappointment with Borough Hall.
He said Marshall was a major supporter when they needed to replace trees such as the ones destroyed by a tornado in MacDonald Park in 2010.
“I remember hearing the atrium is Helen Marshall’s vision,” he said. “I think removing those cherry trees was terrible.”