By Joe Anuta
Hardly any of the trees chopped down around the College Point Police Academy in late March were dead, contradicting what a city Parks Department representative told the community. They were instead removed at the request of the lead contractor for the $1 billion project, according to city documents.
The Parks Department signed off on 82 tree removals along College Point Boulevard, 28th Avenue and Ulmer Street, which were carried out to the horror of neighborhood residents.
At an April meeting between Community Board 7 and several city agencies, representatives from Parks and the NYPD said the trees had to be removed because they were dead.
“Right before they were removed, I had two of my foresters go out there with a representative and they inspected every tree and removed all of the dead trees,” Shawn Maerz, deputy director of the Queens Forestry Division, told the meeting. He went on to detail the harsh conditions that make life hard for other batches of trees that had been planted in the area.
But documents obtained by TimesLedger Newspapers through a Freedom of Information request show that the trees were inspected Feb. 27, about a month before they were cut down and that only eight were classified as dead. Nearly all were classified as being in poor condition. Two of the trees were even classified as fair and one as good.
A Parks department spokesman said Maerz misspoke at the meeting and had never held the position that the trees were dead.
But the trees were going to be removed no matter what condition they were in, according to documents obtained from Parks, which shows the College Point construction project will involve tearing up the entire sidewalk and replacing it.
In fact, Maerz had signed a letter addressed to a contractor on the academy project two months before the community board meeting that indicated the removals were entirely to accommodate construction.
“A borough forester inspected the above-mentioned location for the purpose of addressing your trees removal request,” Maerz said in the letter. “Due to an unavoidable conflict between the trees at the above-listed location and your construction project, Queens Forestry will issue the necessary tree removal permit.”
The letter was addressed to Matthew Nolty, the STV Construction project manager. Nolty was also at the community board meeting where Maerz spoke.
The NYPD and the city Department of Design and Construction were responsible for orchestrating the removals and hiring an arborist, while Parks only provided an additional arborist to sign off on the removals and comply with the law, according to the department.
Doris Scheer, a 50-year resident of the neighborhood, witnessed the mass felling March 29.
“I came onto 28th Avenue and there was a pile of limbs,” she said. “They were young trees. They were in bloom.”
Following initial reports of the surprise pruning, a spokesman from Parks said some of the trees were diseased and needed to be removed. But in contrast to Maerz’s later statement, the spokesman also said many of the trees were being hacked down to make way for the development.
As part of the removal request, the NYPD and STV Construction are required to plant three trees in College Point for every one removed, which comes out to 246.
Parks stated the NYPD will plant 132 of those trees along the street.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.