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Tree Pits at Target Remain Empty as City Drags Feet on Site's Future

 The site in front of the Forest Hills Target — where several trees were removed in 2015 — has become an eyesore and tripping hazard as the city is trying to determine whether to install bioswales there.
The site in front of the Forest Hills Target — where several trees were removed in 2015 — has become an eyesore and tripping hazard as the city is trying to determine whether to install bioswales there.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — The site in front of the Forest Hills Targetwhere several trees were removed nearly two years ago — has become an eyesore and tripping hazard as the city tries to decide whether to install rainwater-collecting bioswales there, a proposal that's been under consideration since at least last July, locals and officials said.

The trees were cut down in front of the Target at 70-00 Austin St. in the fall of 2015. The chain later covered the pits with red bricks, which were later partially removed in preparation to bring the trees back

But the trees were never replanted because when Target applied for permits to do so last fall, it was told that “there were other plans for this area,” said Kristy Welker, a spokeswoman for the chain store.

The bricks have since disarranged, and the space between them filled with dozens of cigarette butts, locals said.

“Don’t walk there at night if you don’t want to trip,” said Angela Kim, a bank employee, who often shops on Austin Street.

Stephen Melnick, a local resident and member of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said he was surprised that nothing was done "in the interim to make sure it’s safe walking there."

"They didn’t even put fencing around or something to cover that area so no one trips," he said. 

Two of the honey locust trees previously planted there were removed by the Parks Department’ forestry unit, after the agency found them to be in poor condition. It was unclear what happened to the third tree.

Target, which angered local residents when it bricked over the tree pits last year, pledged to replant the trees during the planting season last October, the chain said at the time.

Meghan Lalor, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department, said the sites in front of the Forest Hills Target “were surveyed for planting by Parks," but the agency is "awaiting a final determination from DEP regarding the possible placement of bioswales at this location.”

But Douglas Auer, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said Friday that “no final determinations have been made yet.”

He did not elaborate on why the process is taking so long.

Photo: DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

Meanwhile, neighborhood residents are urging the city to overhaul the site — located in the heart of the bustling Forest Hills shopping strip — as soon as possible.

“This is where people come to shop and dine,” Kim noted. “And there is a mess right in the middle of it.”

Melnick said that while he would like to see bioswales at the location because they would make the space greener and help reduce flooding in the area, the process should not last nearly a year.

"If the city is holding it up, someone should investigate why is the city holding up on this for so long," he said.

Michael Perlman, a local historian and activist who was among those outraged about the tree pits being bricked over last year, said he supports either replanting the trees or installing the bioswales, but stressed that “a timely plan should have been implemented."

“We need more trees and green space... not less, as our community continues to witness new developments,” he said.

Lalor added that "if for some reason DEP cannot install a bioswale there, then ... Parks would plant trees at this location."