‘You need to do more’: Avella ‘tutors’ de Blasio on Queens’ tree and sidewalk issues

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A Bayside-based lawmaker wants to see major changes to how the city cares for its trees.

State Senator Tony Avella held a press conference on July 24 to outline a series of city tree policy suggestions he posed to the mayor in a letter sent later that day.

Avella’s comments come in the wake of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s visit to Whitestone on July 20 during “City Hall in Your Borough” to announce the city has allocated an additional $16 million in funding to the NYC Parks’ Trees and Sidewalks program, which helps homeowners repair severe damage caused by the root growth of street trees.

“I have been talking about tree-related issues for a long, long time, and the city has not been giving it the proper attention,” Avella said.

After referring to the Whitestone appearance as a “campaign stop,” Avella said the touted funding does not go far enough, and listed a number of changes that he felt should be made to improve the program and the city’s tree maintenance as a whole.

On the top of the lawmaker’s list was codifying the NYC Parks Department’s program into law and expanding it to include co-ops and condo buildings.

“We have to make sure it’s part of the city law that the city always has to follow through and reimburse homeowners and fix their sidewalks,” he said.

Photo by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS
Photo by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

In addition, the city should be held responsible for tree roots that break or damage homeowners’ sewer or water lines, driveways, front yards and walkways, Avella continued.

The lawmaker also suggested that NYC Park’s tree pruning cycle policy was inadequate and should be changed. Currently seven to 10 years, the lawmaker proposed it be lowered to every three to five years, which he said is the national standard.

“I can’t tell you how many complaints I get on a weekly basis about people who are afraid about the tree in front of their home because it hasn’t been pruned in years,” he said.

Avella also reference the 2013 death of 30-year-old Queens resident Yingyi Li, a pregnant woman who died after she was hit by a falling tree in Kissena Park, as an alarming example of the city’s inattentiveness to maintaining proper tree care.

“Queens is well known as the borough of trees,” said tree-care consultant Carsten Glaeser. “We need smart funding for that and smart planning to make sure that those trees become less of a liability to those that walk beneath them.”

Avella also highlighted a bill he sponsors in the New York State Senate that would authorize certain city homeowners to opt out of a planned city tree planting. The bill is currently in committee.

“Because the city does not maintain the trees and puts the burden on the homeowner, I think a homeowner should have the right to opt out,” he said.

In his letter to the mayor, Avella said the city administration “has not been responsive” to constituents’ concerns.

“Mr. Mayor, you need to do more,” he concluded.

Natalie Grybauskas, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, said Avella’s recommendations will be reviewed.

“The mayor has tripled the resources dedicated to the Trees and Sidewalks program so more homeowners can benefit from sidewalk repairs and we can take better care of our urban forest,” Grybauskas said.

The NYC Parks Department declined to comment.

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