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Tearing Down of Trees in Garibaldi Square a Tragedy, Activist Says

By Stephanie Lulay | September 17, 2015 6:16am
 Mature honey locust trees planted between driveways in Little Italy's Garibaldi Square subdivision were removed this week.
Mature honey locust trees planted between driveways in Little Italy's Garibaldi Square subdivision were removed this week.
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Bob O'Neill

LITTLE ITALY — The man who has worked to keep Grant Park beautiful is taking issue with a condo association's decision to tear down trees in his neighborhood.

Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said the tearing down of mature honey locust trees this week on private property in Little Italy's Garibaldi Square subdivision should have been avoided.

"A beautiful tree lined, u-shaped street is now being decimated," he said of the area just north of Garibaldi Park at South Laflin and West Harrison streets. "It's awful. Huge trees are being cut down inside the complex." 

Garibaldi Square's Homeowners Association decided to tear down the trees after some townhome owners reported damaged water mains, sewer line breaks or damaged foundations, according to neighbors familiar with the project. The pipes were believed to have been broken by the roots of trees that line separate the driveways in the subdivision, and the association contended they must be removed because the roots were too close to the buildings.

Neighbors report that crews are tearing down more than 50 trees, which measure 30 feet or taller, in the complex.

Tree stumps now line the driveways in the Garibaldi Square subdivision. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

According to an email from Lothar Greski, who served as president of the association until Aug. 1, the board finalized the decision to tear down the trees after two community meetings this spring on the proposed removal. A tree removal company was on site cutting down trees Wednesday.

Greski could not be reached Wednesday.

But O'Neill, who has worked to plant trees across the city and in Little Italy for 33 years, said the trees did not pose a threat to foundations and pipes.

"Tree roots cannot possibly break through concrete or sewer pipes unless the concrete or pipe is already cracked and damaged. I have seen hundreds of trees growing even closer to houses without any issues," said O'Neill, who lives four blocks from Garibaldi Square. "This is a real common myth that we've fought for decades."

With proper trimming, the honey locust trees will grow to create a canopy over homes, as they "spread out on top above the roof lines" and away from the house, O'Neill said.

Mature honey locust trees planted between driveways at Garibaldi Square were removed this week. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

While the tear down happened on private property under the jurisdiction of the homeowners association, O'Neill said that the trees were intended to benefit the entire community. When the subdivision was designed in the mid-1980s, Little Italy leaders, including O'Neill, asked architects to design the trees into the complex.

The subdivision "was approved by the City of Chicago with the tree placements. They are a part of the overall design of Garibaldi Square," he said.

While the condo association might see the trees as a nuisance, O'Neill said he was focused on the bigger picture. In the aftermath of the emerald ash borer infestation, which killed nearly 100,000 ash trees in the city, every tree counts, he said.

"The city removes far more trees than they are planting" on city property,l O'Neill said. "The urban forest in Chicago is in severe decline."

Urban forests are crucial to the quality of life in cities — they clean the air, prevent flooding and provide habitat and food for wildlife, O'Neill said.

Bob O'Neill (l.), Grant Park Conservancy president; right: Trees set for removal in Little Italy's Garibaldi Square subdivision. [DNAinfo/David Matthews; Bob O'Neill]

Environmental impact aside, O'Neill said cutting down the mature trees left a street that now "looks awful," and comes after the removal of honey locust trees on Loomis Street years ago that were never replaced.

"It's like a beautiful smile with a section of teeth knocked out," he said.

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