Since last summer, lifelong Fresh Meadows resident and retired teacher John Amato has made it his mission to see the borough’s trees get the attention they deserve.
In a journal, Amato logs each tree he observes as dead, rotting or posing a danger to the community in his and surrounding eastern Queens neighborhoods. He then reports his findings to 311 and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and keeps track of each service request.
“I decided one day to do something about this,” he said. “I’m a nature-lover, like a lot of people are.”
One tree in front of a home at 164th Street and 67th Avenue — near his own home within the Electchester co-op complex — is of special concern, Amato told QNS while on site. At least three large branches have broken off the tree in recent months, he said, and the tree is partly dead.
“This thing has been like this for close to three years now,” he said. “All the roots are above the sidewalk and lifting the sidewalk.”
Amato contacted 311 this summer and followed up with the Forestry Division, who said they inspected the tree and created a work order.
Homeowner Judy P. said she’s called 311 three times about the problematic tree. Another large limb came down a few weeks ago, she said, and in October 2017 a limb fell across the street and had to be broken down and removed by the Fire Department.
“They sent me back an email: ‘No work needs to be done,'” she said. “A few weeks later, a tree limb came down.”
Parks Department spokesperson Meghan Lalor said the 31” diameter Norway maple was inspected in July 2017, at which point a Category “C” work order for tree removal. This was according to the agency’s recently launched Tree Risk Management Program, which prioritizes work according to tree conditions presenting the highest risk to public safety and property.
“We will complete all work in Category ‘A’ first and address work in lower priority categories in accordance with available resources,” the spokesperson said.
Amato, who was aware of the C rating, said he believes the tree requires a more immediate response.
A couple of blocks away, four trees planted near at Holy Family Church and Catholic Academy are also cause for concern, according to Amato. One tree has a limb that reaches out and hangs next to a convent window, he pointed out, while a large tree at the corner of 175th Street and 74th Avenue frequently sheds small to large branches and leans toward the school.
“The children walk down here with their parents. The sisters come out of the convent,” he said. “What if someone were struck by a fallen branch?”
All four trees were called into 311. Amato said school principal Mary Scheer has also reported the hazardous trees.
Two of the smaller trees were inspected in November 2017, according to Lalor, and “found to be in good condition and require routine block-pruning.”
Two trees outside of Kissena Park, along 164th Street between Lithonia and Metcalf Avenues also raised a red flag for Amato. The trees lean out toward the street and show signs of damage, he said.
Lalor said these trees were inspected on March 28.
“[The trees] were found to be in good condition and did not warrant removal,” Lalor said. “Phototropic leaning is a naturally occurring event where trees lean toward the light. A leaning tree does not automatically indicate poor health.”
Amato said the Parks Department should do more to keep homeowners, business owners and constituents in the loop about the condition of the neighborhoods trees.
“Why can’t [the inspector] have a triplicate pad where they write up a description of the inspection and explain exactly what is wrong with the tree?” Amato said. “By going online you can check it, but I think a receipt with a signature of a person is important for your records.”
Amato voiced his support for legislation presented by northeast Queens representative state Senator Tony Avella. The bill proposes legislation to establish a task force to evaluate the Parks Department’s policies on tree maintenance; it is currently in committee.
“There is an issue here,” he said. “More people have to be aware: trees need to be taken care of like people. The Parks Department works very hard but I think they need more people, more staff.”
Amato is one of a series of homeowners who have spoken out about the condition of northeast Queens’ trees in recent months.
Flushing residents living near Kissena Park spoke out about trees they deemed hazardous at a press conference organized by Avella earlier this month. Hollis Hills local Louis Lapolla spoke with QNS in March about rotting trees planted along the Union Turnpike median.