“Look at our block,” said Rockville Centre resident Lisa King, pointing north on Brouwer Lane, the street she has called home for the past 12 years. The village, as part of its road repair program, removed trees that had provided shade and greenery just days before, and only their stumps remained. “It looks like a city block now,” she added, her voice fraught with disappointment.
As part of the first phase of the village’s annual effort to improve road conditions, handfuls of trees between the sidewalk and street were ripped out this month on Brouwer, Stonewell Road, Heyward Lane, Virginia Avenue and Midfarm Road. Roughly three miles of roadway will be repaired this year. The sites were selected based on pedestrian safety, pavement condition and utility upgrade needs, such as water mains. Roadwork spending this year is not expected to exceed $3 million, and is bonded, according to village spokeswoman Julie Scully. The debt service related to these bonds, she added, is included in the budget each year.
In addition to water main upgrades, the roadwork includes, if necessary, improvements to the streets’ drainage, electrical lighting, base and surface asphalt, driveway ramps, curbs and overall infrastructure, Scully said. In the process, the village — after a certified arborist evaluates the trees — removes any dead ones, as well as those that have roots growing into and damaging streets and curbs, or ones that could harm the road in the future. Such trees were marked with white dots earlier this month and then cut down.
The village said it received the approval to cut down the trees from the homeowners of the properties after telling them that the village would not be responsible for the tree if they were not removed, Scully said.
“Because of the big investment that the village is putting into the road, they don’t want to have to come back and rip up that street again,” Scully said.
Nicholas Bates, urban forestry educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, said that every decision on whether to remove a tree is circumstantial. He said that other states with more complicated forestry issues, like Oregon and Texas, often have ordinances on how to handle trees, while many Long Island municipalities do not.
Bates added that setting up critical root zones — defined as a radius equal in feet to the number of inches of the tree’s trunk diameter, in which work must not be done — can help preserve trees.
“If you have no choice but to damage 20 percent of that [critical root] zone, it’s usually considered a hazard tree at that point, so it probably is best to take it out,” Bates said, “but there are ways of avoiding that critical root zone.”
Stonewell Avenue resident Jan Slow, whose next-door neighbor had two large trees removed from the land between the sidewalk and street in front of his property, said the village is looking out for taxpayers.
“If you’re going to spend money to redo the sewers and rip up the streets, I don’t think there was a way to do it any other way,” Slow said. “I looked at the trees they picked, and they seemed to be trees that interfered with the concrete and interfered with the paving of the street.”
But Mimi Schechter, who has lived in her Brouwer Lane home for 60 years, said the road looks like “a war zone.”
“I understand why they’re doing it, but environmentally it’s ridiculous,” she said of the tree removal. “It’s supposed to be Tree City USA, and they’re cutting all the trees down.” Rockville Centre has been recognized as a Tree City USA for the past 29 years by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Lands and Forests. The Tree City USA program provides a framework for community forestry management for cities and towns across the country.
Ever since Schechter moved to the street in 1957, the tree on her neighbor’s property had stood tall, she said, and provided shade for her car. Now it is gone and beads of sweat formed on her forehead as she spoke about a recent walk she took around the neighborhood in the summer heat.
“It makes the street hotter,” she said. “If you go walking, you’re walking in the sun. There’s no more shade.”
A Stonewall Avenue resident, who identified himself only as Perry, also noted the lack of shade, claiming it would bother the children that he sees playing outside. He added that, having lived in New Mexico for 22 years, he liked that the trees in Rockville Centre gave a more rural feel to the area, helping break up “a cosmopolitan, city-type area with lines of houses.”
“It affects our comfort and our way of life,” Perry said of the lack of trees. “There’s a certain mood that [they] create also, of calm and serenity, instead of just openness.”
A new tree is replanted in each spot at no cost. Residents are able to choose from six varieties — pin oak, thundercloud plum, Japanese lilac, Kwanzan Oriental cherry, littleleaf linden and male ginkgo biloba trees — which when ordered from the village, normally cost $250 each, and $350 when planting is included.
“Trees and green spaces are an important part of Rockville Centre,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said in a statement, adding that more than 100 trees have been planted in the last year alone. “The removal of a tree in the Village is not taken lightly and is only done as a last resort.
“There is a reason why Rockville Centre is consistently selected as one of the top places to live and raise a family in New York,” Murray continued. “We are committed to maintaining and improving the quality of life for our residents.”
Phase One of this year’s roadwork, including the streets being worked on now, encompasses 14 roads, and Phase Two, expected to begin in the fall, includes eight roads.
In addition to the effects on the shade and aesthetics of the area, King said, she thinks property values will decline. “I think that when people come into a neighborhood, they want to have a neighborhood feel, and they want to have that warmth that the trees and the nature allows,” she said. “That’s one thing Rockville Centre doesn’t have enough of.”
The new trees to be planted at the end of each phase are about two inches in diameter. The village cited price, survivability, growth rate and roots that fit comfortably between the sidewalk and curb as reasons not to plant larger ones.
“We’re certainly not going to reap the benefits of the new trees,” King continued. “These trees [were] hundreds of years old.”