Uprooted Trees in Mosholu Park Reignites Debate over Golf Club-House Site Boundary
Like the other 1.4 million Bronxites, 74-year-old Norwood resident, Silvya Parodi, relies on the leafy surroundings of Mosholu Park for her physical and mental well being. Prior to the enactment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide PAUSE order, the vast, tree-lined, green zone served as a welcome sanctuary from the City’s daily hustle and bustle.
When the shelter-in-place restrictions came into effect in March, that lifeline to nature became even more vital to Parodi and a local community craving some semblance of normality amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Sometimes I go sit in the park and talk to some old person that is there too,” she said. “I need to go and talk to somebody sometimes.” But now, this once-lush refuge seems to be gradually disappearing.
Throughout March and into early April, several trees were cut down or uprooted in the enclosure beside the construction site for Mosholu golf club-house at Jerome Avenue and East 212th Street, reigniting a debate between City authorities and the local community over the site’s boundary.
Parodi, who survived the 1952 polio epidemic as a child growing up in Argentina, sent Norwood News photo and video evidence of the butchered landscape. She is devastated by the extent of tree removal from the park, since she believes the trees were growing on public parkland.
“I see the damage. I mean, it was horrible what they do to the trees,” she said. “You gotta go inside the park if you want to see the enclosure and walk around.” According to Parodi, the construction team stopped work at the site on Thursday, Apr. 2. “They said they’re gonna leave everything as it was before, but right now it’s no trees,” she said. “I mean, the big trees – they destroyed the trees. I don’t know.”
If this sounds like a familiar story, it’s because it is. Last summer Norwood News reported of dissent among other community members in relation to the same construction site. At the time, they said that in erecting a barricaded enclosure adjacent to the site, the City, which owns the land, had illegally breached the site perimeters, encroaching upon public parkland.
The $84-million construction project not only involves the re-building of the Mosholu golf club-house, but a new parking lot as well. According to the City’s department of design and construction (DDC), both works were foreseen in the original 2004 site plan when 43-acres of alienated lands were allocated by the State to the City for the construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant. The underground plant was completed in 2015, under Mosholu golf course, within the site’s perimeter.
In response to concerns at that time that the project was knocking out parkland, due to the erection of an additional barricaded enclosure adjacent to the site, Ian Michaels from the DDC said in June 2019, “The fence that went up two weeks ago is a temporary construction fence to protect the public during work, and does not represent the final boundary of the project being built behind it.”
He added, “No construction that is controlled by park alienation rules is taking place beyond the park alienation boundaries”. But now Parodi is questioning if the City had the authority to cut down the trees in the enclosure adjacent to the site. She is also questioning if perhaps the reason the trees were cut-down in such quick succession was because the construction crew had nothing else to do, noting that the workers stopped their work at midday on Apr. 2, following further PAUSE orders. “It’s like death. I’m having death over there now so I’m very upset on that, and we need the trees,” she said.
Upon receipt of the photographic and video evidence of the felled and uprooted trees, Norwood News reached out to the City’s parks’ department for an explanation. Dan Kastanis confirmed in an email dated Apr. 7 that the area in question is indeed part of the longstanding Croton Water Plant Construction Project, funded by the City’s department of environmental protection (DEP). “A total of 85 trees will be impacted due to this project,” Kastanis said in an email reply. “As part of the replacement plan, DDC intends to plant a total of 97 one-inch caliper trees, and 147 three-inch caliper trees on-site.” Norwood News later asked Parks how long it would take for such caliper trees to reach full height and awaits a response.
Referring to Parks’ precise role in the tree removal process, Kastanis said, “We never approve healthy tree removals unless absolutely necessary, and our expert foresters always review each proposed removal to identify ways to preserve trees and minimize impacts”.
He explained that before construction projects begin, the department’s foresters conduct an initial tree inventory at the site, whereby tree conditions are evaluated pre-construction in order to note their overall health, allowing the agency to later track if any trees get damaged during the course of construction. Kastanis said this procedure applies whether there are construction-related tree removals or not, and it also applies to every project where there are existing trees within 50 feet of the site.
“If there is a necessary tree removal, the designers must show evidence that this tree removal presents an ‘unavoidable construction conflict’ to ongoing work,” he said. “If a removal is approved, the construction lead must submit a restitution / replacement fee.”
Kastanis also explained that if a tree is dead, diseased, structurally unsound, or otherwise hazardous, restitution is not required, and a new tree is not automatically planted elsewhere. Where this is not the case, the agency generally grants the removal permit as soon as a [tree removal] application is submitted.
Norwood News has not yet been able to independently verify whether the felled trees in Mosholu Park fall within or outside of the referenced barricade protecting the public from the site which last year the DDC said was temporary. Michaels is investigating the issue as of the date of publication.
Meanwhile, Bronx Community Board 7 said that following the complaints raised in June 2019, a special follow-up meeting at the Kingsbridge Library was held with various elected officials, including Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who had been slated to take a walk around the site with a DEP representative and examine the boundary.
Dinowitz’s office confirmed that the meeting did go ahead in July 2019 with DDC, DEP and various community stakeholders and questions relating to the site were raised with DDC for follow-up. Dinowitz’s office confirmed that City agencies still haven’t provided answers to those questions, despite receiving a summary and reminder in a follow-up letter.
His office confirmed that the City did provide a response but didn’t actually answer the specific questions raised at the meeting or in the letter. His office also confirmed that several City staff said that the City’s position is that it doesn’t matter where the trees are being removed from because it’s all for park purposes.
“Beyond the immediate issue of losing trees in our parkland and whether that is legal for the city to do without a new alienation of parkland being made, the single most frustrating element to this entire process has been the lack of an honest and transparent dialogue between the community and our governing agencies,” Dinowitz said in a written statement to Norwood News.
“The project itself is a long-delayed culmination of a horrible bureaucratic decision from nearly two decades ago to construct a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park,” the statement continued. “They [City agencies] destroyed a corner of our park for a multi-billion dollar industrial facility that isn’t even good enough to do what we need it to do, and now they are poking at the wound once again by removing so many more trees just for a parking lot.”
Dinowitz added that while he appreciated the efforts of Commissioner Lorraine Grillo and her staff at DDC in trying to provide information to the impacted community, it was unacceptable that required answers to basic questions from the community have been tied up in various legal departments for almost a full year, and have, apparently, not been forthcoming, such as where are the trees located in relation to the alienated parkland.
Meanwhile, District Manager, Ischia Bravo confirmed that the matter is due to be discussed at Bronx Community Board 7 board meeting at the end of the month.
In the meantime, Parodi continues to grab some much-needed fresh air to escape the confines of her home, still lamenting the loss of the trees. “These people, not talking to nobody in the community..,” she said. “One day we went over to the park and…… and now they’re taking our trees – no!”
A video of the uprooted and felled trees recorded by Silvya Parodi can be viewed by clicking on the following link: Mosholu Felled Trees
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