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Columbia University to Cut Down Trees to Make Way for Waterfront Park

By Carla Zanoni | July 2, 2012 5:18pm

INWOOD — As Columbia University prepares to begin construction on the public waterfront park at the edge of its Baker Field Athletic complex, some residents are concerned that the school’s plan includes removing several old trees. 

Park Terrace resident Osi Kramer protested the removal of mature trees, linking their removal to a potential increase in crime, based on a study conducted in Portland, Ore., and published in Environement and Behavior journal, in which the authors find that “trees in the public right of way are associated with lower crime rates.”

“In light of the Columbia University plans to chop down "several" trees to make way for its Inwood public waterfront park. your attention is required, because as it is right now, your so-called 'plan' to cut down trees is part of the problem, not the solution,” Kramer wrote, calling for a public meeting prior to the removal of such trees.

But Columbia officials said it is necessary for them to remove "several" trees in order to move forward with the project.

"To create or restore a salt marsh, there needs to be full sun light," wrote Columbia spokeswoman Victoria Benitez in an email. "The design team worked closely with a natural resource consultant and the [Department of Parks and Recreation] to come up with a viable way to restore the salt marsh in the inlet area, which involves the need to remove several trees along the southern edge of the restored marsh." 

Benitez added that although “several” trees will be removed to make way for the park, "the project plan includes the planting of 32 new trees indigenous to the area around the Boathouse Marsh site."  

The Parks Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The university received “preliminary approval” on the project during a public hearing in May.

Columbia agreed to build the public waterfront park as a concession for building on its land without turning over the normally required 15 percent of the space for public use. Instead, Columbia set aside just 1.5 percent of its property for public use.

Residents were dismayed in May 2011 when the university removed approximately 10 mature trees during the first phase of its Baker Field Athletic complex construction at the corner of West 218th Street and Broadway.

School officials said they needed to remove those trees in order to make way for its 47,700-square-foot, five-story Campbell Sports Center, but pledged to plant the additional 30-plus trees in exchange for their removal.

Construction on the waterfront property is slated to go through the summer.

Columbia and community officials have said the school will not be able to receive a certificate of occupancy for its new building until it opens the waterfront space, but community members have questioned whether the agreement is enforceable. 

“We anticipate the park being substantially complete in the fall of 2012," Columbia spokeswoman Victoria Benitez told DNAinfo in May.