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Shake Shack Rehab Could Damage Madison Square Park Trees, Plan Shows

By James Fanelli | September 5, 2014 7:26am
 Plans for the rehabilitation of the flagship Shake Shack in Madison Square Park indicate that construction will likely damage one of the nicest and largest trees in the park.
Shake Shack Rehab Will Likely Damage Madison Square Park Tree
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FLATIRON — Sprucing up Shake Shack’s flagship location could damage one of Madison Square Park’s “largest and best trees,” records show.

The popular fast-food joint’s park location will shut down later this year for a five-month makeover, but a 66-and-a-half-foot London plane tree lies in the path of construction work, according to a tree protection plan obtained by DNAinfo New York. 

The plan, which Shake Shack submitted to the Parks Department earlier this year, says the tree “will suffer a number of inevitable insults as a result of construction.” The Parks Department subsequently approved it, which was necessary for Shake Shack to get the go-ahead to remodel.

The plan, prepared by consulting firm Urban Arborists, describes the London plane tree as “one of the largest and best trees in the park” and values it at $179,288. The Parks Department provides a methodology for calculating the value of a tree in case it needs to be replaced.

The grand tree abuts Shake Shack’s basement and concrete pad. The plan cautions that the tree’s roots will require extra care as the shack’s renovation calls for extension of the basement and the replacement of a new basement wall.

The study says the tree “will likely be able to survive the impact provided that the excavation is kept back 180 inches west of the base of the tree.”

"Reconstruction of the foundation wall to the south of this tree will require great care to avoid damage to roots that butt against the existing wall," the plan also notes.

Urban Arborists also identifies six other mature trees near Shake Shack that will need to be monitored during the construction to keep them safe.

The plan notes that one of those — a 54-foot London plane tree planted near the shack’s outdoor seating area — will need extra protective care to avoid damage. Contractors will add a new curb that will come within 22 inches of the base of that tree, according to the plan.

The total value of the seven trees is $482,054. The plan states that the contractors will be made aware of their value.

"We will be making every effort to ensure that all nearby trees are preserved and we don’t anticipate any damage to the trees in Madison Square Park," a Shake Shack spokesman said.

"We look forward to helping to keep the beautiful park just like it is today. The NYC Parks Department has approved our renovation plans, which includes an extensive tree protection plan. We’ve also hired an arborist, who will be on site during the construction."

Urban Arborists did not respond to questions.

Parks Department spokesman Arthur Pincus declined to elaborate on what impact the "inevitable insults" will have on the tree.

In a statement, the Parks Department said that Shake Shack provided an extensive tree protection narrative for its rehabilitation.

“This plan was reviewed and approved by Parks’ Forestry Unit and it includes specific instructions for this London plane tree’s protection,” the statement said.

He added that a series of precautions will be taken during construction, including fencing off trees, using a 12-inch protective layer of mulch if equipment is on the tree’s protection zone and keeping a consulting arborist on hand during the work.

Shake Shack set up shop in Madison Square Park ten years ago. In the city's 2013 fiscal year, the burger purveyor paid the Parks Department $314,681, or 4.5 percent of its total revenue for that location, to lease the space.

Geoffrey Croft, the head of watchdog group New York City Park Advocates, said that park trees have been given short shrift since Parks Department Commissioner Henry Stern left the post when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office.

“Obviously, commerce should not be allowed to dictate the destruction of trees,” Croft said. “[Mayor Bill de Blasio’s] administration should put a stop to this policy.”

London plane trees, known for their peeling barks and for providing ample shade, make up more than half of the tree population in Madison Square Park, according to the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s blog.