2007-10-24 / Political Page

Onorato, Avella Say: 'New Tree Program Needs Trimming Here & There'

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Pictured from l. to r. are: Elliot Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association Robert Holden, president of the juniper Park Civic Association Paul Graziano, Urban Planner Mel Siegel, President of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association Councilmember Tony Avella and Nick Ferrigno of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association. Pictured from l. to r. are: Elliot Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association Robert Holden, president of the juniper Park Civic Association Paul Graziano, Urban Planner Mel Siegel, President of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association Councilmember Tony Avella and Nick Ferrigno of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and performer Bette Midler launched an ambitious tree planting program recently which Bloomberg hopes will see a million trees planted throughout the city in the next decade. It was met by criticism about improper care of trees and the eventual cost of maintaining the trees to be planted for homeowners.

On October 9, the same day the mayor and Midler launched the program in The Bronx, state Senator George Onorato (D- Long Island City) wrote the mayor to express his deep concern about overgrown tree branches that are obscuring traffic signals at various intersections in his Astoria district.

On that same day, City Councilmember Tony Avella (D- Bayside), also complained of the lack of care for existing mature trees and making homeowners responsible for planting the new trees under the mayor's new program.

Avella said, "While I agree with the mayor and DCP [the Department of City Planning] that we need to preserve and enhance green space in New York City, this proposal would unfairly place the financial burden and responsibility for planting the street tree on the homeowner."

Avella referred to a zoning change, the proposed Street Tree Planting Amendment which was tied in to the mayor's ambitious tree planting program.

Avella explained, "The amendment, as part of the mayor's 2030 plan, would establish regulations that would require the planting of street trees in all zoning districts for all new developments; major enlargements... and certain conversions", which change the usage between commercial, residential, community facility, or manufacturing.

The Bayside lawmaker said that the DCP proposal would do nothing to protect existing mature trees on private property. He argued, "Rather than force residents to accept and pay for a tree, we should offer incentives to those homeowners that choose to preserve older trees on their property and continue the volunteer planting request program."

Avella added, "At the very least, if the mayor is going to require homeowners to have street trees, the city should pick up the tab."

Onorato said the problem of overgrown tree branches obscuring traffic signals and creating dangerous situations must be addressed by the mayor, the Parks Department, the Department of Transportation and any other appropriate agency.

"This is obviously a very dangerous situation for motorists and pedestrians alike, and it is my understanding that it can sometimes take years for overgrown trees to be trimmed even after complaint is made. In this light, respectfully ask that you direct the appropriate agency to survey intersections where tree branches are severely obscuring traffic signals and to take immediate action to safeguard public safety," Onorato wrote Bloomberg.

The mayor and Midler got the broadscale tree-planting project off the ground by planting a 12-foot-tall Carolina Silverbell in The South Bronx. Midler was involved in her capacity as founder of the New York Restoration Project, which is dedicated to greening the city's neighborhoods. The organization will also play a major role in the mayor's initiative.

The plan is part of the larger PlaNYC, which the mayor previously announced and is designed to create a greener New York City. The tree planting idea fits in nicely because trees help to filter air pollutants and make the air and peoples' lungs cleaner and healthier.

The mayor pointed out, "Trees also take carbon dioxide- a greenhouse gas- out of the atmosphere, so planting our million new trees will help us hit our target of cutting the city's production of climate-changing greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2030."

The mayor also noted that trees have other benefits, both practical and aesthetic, such as absorbing rainfall and reducing storm water runoff that can clog sewers and providing both a cool, shady respite from summer heat and a beautiful, pleasing-to-the-eye environment.

The mayor concedes his plan is an ambitious goal, noting that one million trees are 40 times the number of trees in Central Park, so everyone will have to cooperate to achieve the goals set.

Describing details of the plan, he said the Department of Parks (DEP) will plant 600,000 new trees in parks and along city streets- more than five times the number of trees DEP planted the past 10 years.

"We're counting on nonprofit and community organizations, businesses, property developers and everyday New Yorkers to plant the remaining 400,000 trees," he said.

To support these efforts, he explained, the New York Restoration Project and the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City are seeking financial and in-kind donations from individuals, corporations and foundations.

Already, he said, the Home Depot Foundation, created by the huge home improvement products firm, has put up $1.5 million in seed money for the huge planting project.

"New Yorkers have always embraced big dreams and big ideas- and that certainly describes our drive to plant one million new trees," the mayor said. "So learn how you can be part of Million Trees NYC."

To make a donation, join a volunteer group planting trees in parks and on public land, which volunteers from City Hall did on Randalls Island last Sunday, to request a tree for your yard or block, or simply learn more about the growing campaign, call 311 or visit the city Web site at nyc.gov.

"Find out how you can help make a tree grow in Brooklyn, or in any other borough you like!" Bloomberg urged.

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