Aug 10, 2006 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
It’s a quiet, sun-drenched afternoon on Syracuse’s north side. Children are playing and toys are scattered around manicured yards of Martin Street. Not a piece of litter in sight and if it weren’t for birds chirping you’d think you we’re viewing a photograph from Community Development describing a model “Syracuse” neighborhood.
Michelle Vertefeuille purchased the house at 154 Martin Street in 2004. Unknowingly, she also acquired a problem beneath the surface of the front yard that’s been affecting this neighborhood for years. It has become a hazard that impacts the entire block.
At first glance it’s just a big tree splitting the sidewalk with root systems extending from a massive seventy-five foot maple tree. Once confined to 154 Martin Street, the tree’s root system has grown aggressively in all directions, creating root-induced pavement bulges.
Vertefeuille wants the tree destroyed. “Look at the bark coming off,” she says. Vertefeuille added that an independent tree expert said he was concerned about the crotch, the part of a tree that forks into two branches, being weakened.
The maple’s tall branches extended like giant arms toward the sky; one barren limb plays tag with the home’s roofline. At its base, generations of blacktop and sidewalk are pushed away by the trunk as if to say, “Get out of my way.”
Pavement bulging has begun to affect Vertefeuille’s neighbors. “The people next door just had a baby they can’t use the sidewalk with a stroller,” Vertefeuille said. “For my neighbor who’s confined to a wheel chair visiting this part of the block is off limits to her because of the sidewalk. My children can’t ride their bikes in front of their home.”
Vertefeuille was verbally informed by City of Syracuse Code Enforcement that her sidewalk had been “condemned” and that she’d better do something or she would begin to incur fines.
Blue, yellow and white lines are sprayed on various surfaces of sidewalk identifying what lies beneath the crumbling sidewalk. Michelle interjects, “This yellow line here is where my gas line is and it goes right through the trunk of the tree” Michele continues, “After what happened with that house that blew up, I called National Grid and they aren’t interested in the gas line unless it’s broken or leaking.”
The tree is growing on the city’s right of way and creating a hazard caused by roots tearing through pavement. Therefore it’s city property and the city’s tree. Her City of Syracuse Sidewalk Assessment Program receipt reads, “Tree removal by Parks Department at no cost upon receipt of signed estimate” signed Sept. 7, 2005 by the homeowner and two city officials, including Dick Galloway.
Vertefeuille says that she spoke with remembers speaking with Dick Galloway, a city engineering inspector for sidewalks, in August 2005. She says he assured her that they’d get to her “either late this year (2005) or first thing next year.”
Vertefeuille is getting frustrated. “I was told by the realtor that all I had to do to get the sidewalk fixed is to contact the city and sign a contract,” she said. “They told me that it would get done either by the end of last year or first thing this year and I waited until June before I called them back and asked them when it was gonna get done and they told me the city doesn’t have money to take down trees that aren’t diseased or dying.”
When asked about the tree situation on Martin Street, Dennis Brogan, director of public affairs of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Services Bureau, confirmed the city’s position.
“We don’t take down trees unless they’re diseased,” Brogan said. “In Syracuse trees do a job of removing tons of pollution from the air annually. “We have an arborist, Brian Liberti, who checks these trees to make a determination, but we don’t like to remove trees because of sidewalks.”
There are ways to save a tree when the city maintains it is not diseased. Brogan indicated that in some cases “they will normally grind away the roots” to make room for paving a new sidewalk instead of taking down the tree.
If it were up to Vertefeuille, the tree would be gone. “I even tried to get it removed independently,” she said. “Once they found out it was on city property they refused to even come out.”
With dead looking limbs close to the home and a root system that extends towards the neighbors’ driveway Vertefeuille thinks the tree is a hazard. “The only reason they’re refusing to take down this tree is money,” she said. “But they can put up a Christmas Tree for six, seven or eight thousand dollars every year.”
In the meantime, improvements planned for the house are on hold — a new driveway, landscaping and step replacement will have to wait for The Tree Nobody Knows to meet its fate.
A root canal seems to be the remedy prescribed by the city while an extraction of the tree would suit some neighbors on Martin Street just fine.