City rescues 249th Street from bulging tree roots

By Adam Kramer

After almost four years and more than a dozen letters to local politicians, the city Department of Transportation and the city Comptroller’s office, Margaret Fanelli’s quest to get her walkway fixed finally became a reality last week.

The tree in front of her house at 81-45 249th St. in Bellerose, which was just a sapling when she moved in 48 years ago, had grown so large that its roots had pushed up the sidewalk.

“The tree is quite large and it broke up four sections of the sidewalk,” she said. “The roots are out of control and all of my efforts to get the problem fixed over the years fell on deaf ears.”

Four years ago her first call was to the head of the DOT, then to the Parks Department and finally to the Environmental Protection Agency, but she said none of the agencies seemed to care.

According to Fenelli, the street kept deteriorating so that nobody could park in front of her house and she worried about someone tripping and getting hurt. In addition, the wrought iron fence which surrounds her front lawn started to bend and fall over.

The situation then went from bad to worse. On Oct. 30, 1997, Fanelli received a summons from the city saying she would have to fix the sidewalk herself.

On the tree-lined block, Fanelli was not the only one to have problems with the roots of trees tearing up the sidewalk and street. She said at least six of her neighbors had the same problem.

The city even put a lien on a neighbor’s home in 1997 because he did not clear up the violation, she said. When he moved, she said, he had to lower the asking price on his house.

With all of the city agencies turning a blind eye to the roots, Fanelli turned to City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Borough President Claire Shulman. She said all three understood her plight and wrote letters on her and the block’s behalf to see if the problem could be rectified.

“The DOT came last year to check out the problem and fix the street,” she said. “But said they ran out of money and could not make the repairs.”

Susan Seinfeld, director of constituents services for Leffler, said the DOT knew about the problem and told his office the contract to fix the street was written. She said the DOT does repairs by community board — starting out in CB 1 and ending at CB 13.

“We kept writing, but the final annoyance was after they finished work in CB 12, the agency started back at CB 1,” she said.

An angry Leffler called and wrote the commissioner of the DOT and finally the agency came to fix the street, Seinfeld said.

In the beginning of June, Fanelli said the DOT examined the damage and sent her a letter saying workers would be on 249th Street in six weeks to make the repairs.

But by the end of July, she said, nothing had been done and the street deteriorated even more.

“This whole situation is unfair,” she complained to Leffler’s office. “We are decent people, who take care of our property. The city should make the repairs.”

In the first few days of August after dozens of letters and phone calls, the city finally came, fixed the street and cut the roots of the tree. Her ordeal was finally over.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at [email protected] or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.