QUEENS — Forest Hills residents hope the city will soon replace three trees removed last year from the sidewalk near the soon-to-open Target on Austin Street — a step which they fear may be difficult after the chain recently bricked over the tree pits.
Three trees used to occupy sidewalk pits stretching along Austin Street between 70th Avenue and 69th Road until last fall, when they suddenly disappeared.
The stumps were then left in the pits for months until the last few weeks, when Target removed the stumps and paved over the pits using red bricks.
The move angered local residents who worry that the new pavement could prevent the Parks Department from planting new trees — as officials from the city's Department of Transportation now say they'll recommend the pits to be paved over in concrete to match the rest of the sidewalk.
"The tree pits need to be restored at once and new trees must be planted," said Michael Perlman, a local historian who also organizes an annual tree giveaway in Forest Hills. "This is a quality of life and environmental issue."
"Forest Hills community among others cannot afford losing our street trees for the sake of a prospective property owner or tenant ... We need more trees in our neighborhoods and not less," he added.
Meghan Lalor, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department, said that “two honey locust trees were removed by Parks’ forestry unit in September 2015, after they were inspected and were found to be in poor condition."
The agency said it had no information about what happened to the third tree.
"Nobody has any paperwork on anybody taking down the third tree so that’s a mystery,” said Michael Cohen, a spokesman for local Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz.
Cohen's office received numerous phone calls from local residents upset about the issue, she said.
Kristy Welker, a spokeswoman for Target, wrote in an email to DNAinfo that the trees became an issue after the store's landlord, Muss Development, “filed a request with the NYC Parks Department in July 2015 to have the trees pruned because branches were dropping on the sidewalk.”
“The first time the Parks department came out, they removed one tree; 1–2 weeks later, two more trees were removed,” Welker said.
Muss Development did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
She added that Target then “paid to have the tree stumps ground and sidewalks temporarily bricked over so there wasn’t a tripping hazard.”
The Parks Department's spokeswoman said their "goal now is to try to replant in this area where appropriate.” She did not, however, specify when the new trees would be planted.
Target is slated to open its new location on Austin Street on July 20. (DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska)
But the Parks Department may have to act fast, as officials from the Department of Transportation said they slapped the chain with a summons for failing to get a permit required to modify the sidewalk using bricks, not concrete, according to the agency.
The standard fine for this type of violation is $250.
The agency also said that it would advise Target to hire a contractor to remove the bricks and install a concrete sidewalk instead.
Welker said that she was not aware of any summons being issued to Target and could not comment on it.
"We look forward to working with the city and local community to maintain the green space outside our new Forest Hills, Queens store," she said.