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City Working to Save Trees Amid Pelham Parkway Construction

By Jeanmarie Evelly | October 18, 2012 8:54am

PELHAM PARKWAY — Things are looking good for the trees along Bronx’s Pelham Parkway, at least for now.

City officials have assessed the first of three sections of the parkway where new curbs and guardrails are being installed, and say just one tree, deemed to be in poor health, will be removed — as opposed to nine trees that had originally been in the construction’s crossfire during initial assessments.

“Happily, updated field measurements show that with a few design modifications, eight of the nine trees can be saved,” said David Burney, commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, the city agency spearheading the renovation. “The remaining tree needs to be removed because an arborist deemed it to be in poor condition, not due to the guardrail installation.”

The one tree that's coming down is located between Stillwell Avenue and Eastchester Road. The city is still determining if any trees will need to be removed from two other sections of the parkway where new guardrails will be installed, from Eastchester Road to Williamsbridge Road, and Williamsbridge Road to Boston Road, a DDC spokesman said.

The latest news is a relief to neighborhood advocates who have been working to preserve the tree-lined thoroughfare as it undergoes major reconstruction. DDC officials met earlier this month with members of the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance and former Community Board 11 district manager John Fratta.

“It was a very good meeting,” Fratta said, saying that the sessions were one of the stipulations agreed to in 2010, when a group of residents formed the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance and sued the city after they learned the reconstruction project would result in the removal of as many as 87 trees along the road. Even Bronx native Regis Philbin weighed in on the dispute, championing for the preservation of the trees.

As part of a settlement to drop the lawsuit, the city agreed to remove no more than 50 trees along the parkway and make earnest efforts to save as many as possible. Officials also agreed to plant 246 new trees and to meet regularly with community members to update them on the work and to “go over each tree and explain why it’s coming down and why it can’t be saved,” Fratta said.

“We are striving to preserve as many trees as we can while making these long-overdue safety improvements for the Pelham Parkway community,” Burney said in an e-mailed statement. So far, the DDC has planted 44 new trees of the 246 promised, according to a spokesman.

So far, one tree has been removed along the parkway for the construction of a ramp on Stillwell Avenue and four others will be removed for a ramp on Lurting Avenue.

DDC officials will hold two more meetings with members of the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance in the coming months to discuss the trees along two other sections of the roadway where curbs and guardrails are being installed. 

George Zulch, one of the founders of the PPPA, said he and other members will continue to monitor construction as it progresses, but that they're pleased with the city's cooperation so far in saving as many trees as possible.

“It’s very encouraging,” he said. “We’re pretty happy that the city has actually come around and agreed to certain things.”

A Bronx native who has lived in the area around Pelham Parkway his entire life, Zulch says the parkway and its stately elm trees are “pivotal” to the surrounding neighborhoods.

“It’s like parkland, really,” he said. “It has to be protected and maintained.”

The reconstruction of Pelham Parkway is a $36 million capital improvement project to upgrade water and sewer systems, and install new roadways, sidewalks, curbs, street lights, traffic signals, and steel-backed timber guardrails along the thoroughfare. Workers are currently constructing the concrete road base and curbs, while the guardrails will be erected this spring, a DDC spokesman said.

The reconstruction was necessary to address long-standing street flooding issues in the area, a spokesman said, and the guardrails will make the parkway safer for drivers.

The ongoing project has raised other concerns in the community recently. Last month, a group of residents filed a lawsuit saying the city dangerously narrowed their street when it installed a sidewalk on a parkway service road between Williamsbridge Road and Wilson Avenue.