2014-04-11 / Top Stories

New Sidewalk To Be Uprooted

By Katie McFadden

Rockaway Park resident Theresa Sutterlin spent nearly $5,000 to fix her sidewalk after the City told her it had to be repaired due to a crack. Now a little more than a year later, the Department of Parks and Recreation is set to rip up the new sidewalk to plant a tree in front of her house.

Sutterlin says that shortly before Sandy, the city gave her a violation for a cracked sidewalk and told her that she had to pay for the repairs. She could have allowed the city to do the work and she would get billed, or she could hire a private contractor to repave the sidewalk. Putting more trust in a private worker, Sutterlin spent nearly $5,000 to have the sidewalk and her driveway repaved. She needed two permits before starting the work and had to have it inspected by the city so that the violation would be removed once the work was completed. In late March of this year, she came home to find her sidewalk spray painted with “1F” symbols and lines boxing off a section of the sidewalk in white paint.

Not knowing what the markings meant, she asked a city worker who was working on another property what the symbols stood for and was told that a tree was going to be planted in the area that was boxed off on the newly-paved sidewalk. “I really don’t want a tree,” Sutterlin said. “You hear all these horror stories of tree roots going into water lines or ripping up the property. I put a lot of money into the sidewalk. I don’t want to have all these problems arriving from something I don’t want.”

“The city just slapped me with a sidewalk violation and made me repave it. I wouldn’t have had to pay $5,000 if they were just going to rip it up anyway. Also, trees don’t grow well because I’m so close to the ocean,” Sutterlin, who lives on a beach block said. “I don’t want to have to deal with a tree growing and ripping up the concrete or the roots going into a water line and having to wait for the city to come fix it.” While Sutterlin was told that she had to pay to fix the cracked sidewalk, the city takes care of sidewalks that are specifically damaged by trees as the city is responsible and has jurisdiction over trees that grow on sidewalks.

The city worker, who happened to be repairing the sidewalk on her block that was damaged because of a tree, told her that people typically request to have trees planted and that if she didn’t want one, she should call 311 immediately. So she did. Sutterlin was told that white spray paint on the sidewalk means that excavation will take place. The 311 worker could not confirm that the white “1F” markings meant a tree would be planted, but the worker recorded her complaint and request to not have a tree planted and forwarded it to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

According to the Department of Parks and Recreation website, Sutterlin is out of luck. A statement on the website reads, “Just as residents do not determine the placement of city infrastructure such as traffic lights, bus stops, or fire hydrants, they will not be able to refuse the planting of a city tree in the public right–of–way.” The website also has a specific statement about reimbursing owners who have new sidewalk ripped up so a tree can be planted which says, “Parks and Recreation does not reimburse property owners if new sidewalk is removed when a tree is planted.”

Parks Department spokeswoman Tara Kiernan confirmed to The Wave that they do not allow residents to decline a tree. “Since 2007, we’ve implemented new planting techniques on streets to make the new trees we plant less susceptible to storm damage and less likely to uproot sidewalks,” she said.

The city is planting trees across the five boroughs as part of the Million- TreesNYC program, which falls under former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, established in 2007. The goal is to plant one million trees by 2017, including 220,000 street trees.

Sutterlin was told that tree planting sites are determined at random. Her street seems to be lacking greenery on sidewalks, which is why several locations of her block have the white “1F” markings, indicating that a tree will be planted there. According to the Parks website, the Parks Department performs a survey of blocks with few or no trees and determines if the location can accommodate the healthy growth of a new tree. When it is determined to be an appropriate location, the sidewalk is marked with a white dot. Utility companies will then mark the area with other colored symbols to indicate if there are any underground wires or pipes that may be affected by the excavation of the area, in which case that tree location may be declined. If the spot is a go, Parks says a white “T” is painted on the sidewalk and the corners of the proposed tree bed are marked. Kiernan said that a 1S or 1F, as placed in front of Sutterlin’s home, indicated the location of the tree at the address, as in first tree in the front or first tree on the side.

After the markings are made, Parks contractors return to excavate the sidewalk and plant a tree in the area within a few weeks. Trees are planted during two seasons; spring (March 1 to May 31) and fall (October 1 to December 31). A Parks arborist chooses what species of tree works best in the location.

While Sutterlin’s property was chosen by Parks as a tree site, residents can also request to have trees planted in front of their property or along an entire block. Another Rockaway Park resident said she’d be glad to take the tree that Sutterlin hopes to turn down. “Maybe they can plant that tree on my block instead. I have tried to get trees planted here to no avail,” Annette Lauritsch said. She said she tried to request trees for her street back in 2008. “We didn’t get a reply until three years later and it was a NO due to leeward winds,” she said.

Sutterlin isn’t against trees completely. She says she has done her part to add greenery by collecting a free tree at a giveaway on Beach 116th Street recently, which was also part of the MillionTrees program. Trees given away through these programs are for residents to plant on their private property. Sutterlin planted the free tree on the grass of her property, but when it comes to the proposed sidewalk tree, Sutterlin hopes the Parks Department reconsiders. “I feel it should be my choice if I want a tree. They can’t say that it’s their property, because they just made me pay the money to redo the sidewalk,” Sutterlin said.

While Kiernan says residents cannot decline to have a tree planted, she said the Parks Department is willing to get in touch with Sutterlin to discuss adjusting the location or the species of the proposed tree.

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“I feel it should be my

“I feel it should be my choice if I want a tree. They can’t say that it’s their property, because they just made me pay the money to redo the sidewalk,” Sutterlin said. The city can't have it both ways


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