Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Thank you to Mayer Fink for his timely and informative letter (“Is It Time to Reevaluate the Trees in Our Town?” August 13, 2020) regarding the devastation from fallen trees in Teaneck during the recent storm. While I can appreciate the points he made about the value and benefits of town trees, I am more concerned about some of the downsides. In addition to the obvious hazard of storms with downed power lines, crushed houses and cars and sometimes lost lives, the curbside trees planted in the right of way in front of most homes in Teaneck have been a source of aggravation and expense to many homeowners for years. These trees, apparently chosen so that their roots did not invade underground utilities, have surface roots that raise sidewalk slabs and driveways, invading lawns and retaining walls and dropping their offensive “picker balls” on sidewalks, where people twist their ankles and worse from tripping on them. Some of these trees, 100+ feet tall, are trying to grow in 18-inch-wide strips of ground. Their diameters exceed the paltry bit of ground they are allotted, so it is no wonder that they try to expand toward the nearby lawns and destroy the sidewalk on their way. As the trees get taller and taller, their root network expands in search of water, nutrients and stability, growing thicker and longer roots.


Teaneck responds to this, not by regular pruning and cutting back overgrowth, which might slow root expansion, but by demanding that residents go to the regular expense of replacing the sidewalks, only to have them lift again within a couple of years because the town will only shave enough root to allow a new slab to lay flat at that moment. This week I found that even though there is debris from the storm still littering most blocks in Teaneck, and the DPW is overwhelmed with the cleanup in addition to their regular duties, someone had time to walk around and paint circles on several sidewalk slabs up and down my block, denoting slabs that must be replaced by the resident. The choices seem random—one property marked, the next two skipped (in spite of raised slabs), the next two marked, the next property skipped (again with raised slabs). Three weeks ago, other random properties had the circles. The work must be done within a time frame or there is some unspecified
consequence. As the homeowner, you are not permitted the option of removing the offending tree and perhaps substituting something more appropriate and sustainable. Something else all homeowners may not be aware of is that the cost of replacing slabs decreases with the number of slabs replaced. So if all of your neighbors did it at the same time, you could get a better price per slab.

If this is being forced on an already tax-burdened community, might there be a better way? Instead of supplying a list of “approved” contractors and making each resident pay the max for a couple slabs, why doesn’t the town negotiate a bulk price with a few contractors on behalf of the residents, assign a quadrant or whatever to each contractor, designate all the slabs in that quadrant that need replacing, and have it done systematically and efficiently block by block? The DPW could cut roots or remove trees on an entire block and the repaving could all be done at less cost. Instead the DPW is deployed randomly all over, and at any given moment many blocks all have a couple missing slabs awaiting the root shaving. At the very least, an entire block should be marked at the same time, so the residents can negotiate their own bulk price for all their slabs by banding together.

Lastly, I am perturbed and beyond curious why some of these curbside trees actually get removed, while other trees which appear to be much more dangerous are left standing even when brought to the attention of the town. I recently observed a curbside tree removed on a block where all the trees are noticeably smaller and younger than on my block. It was not near any overhead wires. There were no other trees on the property. It didn’t block a driveway. It was very green and appeared healthy. Its roots certainly raised the sidewalk, but the norm is to shave them, not remove the tree. Explanation please!

I believe it is time to hold the town accountable for the proper maintenance of its trees or their removal when they become a hazard. Instead of threatening the taxpayer with consequences, the town should be a part of the solution.

How about it, Teaneck?

Dr. Stuart Greenstein