Buh Bye Big Elm Tree


"JE" writes to BHB:

The board of directors at 145 Hicks is trying to take down the huge elm tree in front of the building. This is one of the most venerable and lovely of our trees, is in perfect health, and removing it would be a  terrible loss to our neighborhood. lease consider doing a piece about this. Shareholders and residents on the block are in the process of having any removal action stopped.

According to a comment on BHB, the deed is already done:

What is wrong with these people? The Majestic Historic Tree between Clark and Pierrepont in the Mansion House courtyard is going to be chopped down courtesy of the Mansion House Board of Directors. This will affect the neighborhood greatly. Does this upset anyone else??????????


Brooklyn Paper's former Heights Lowdown columnist (and still supervixen) Christie Rizk  reported on the controversy back in April:

For 10 years, Andrea Demetropoulos-Marcolini has been taking care of her own little part of Heights history — an 80-year-old American Elm tree on Hicks Street that is suddenly facing the ax.

How could that be? Brooklyn Heights is a historically protected neighborhood! Buildings can’t just knock over anything they please, right?

Wrong. Demetropoulos-Marcolini isn’t trying to save isn’t a church or a brownstone — that would be easy. Instead, the American elm in the front garden of 145 Hicks St. could get cut down rather than force the building’s co-op board to reroute a ConEd electrical conduit pipe that the tree’s roots seem to be messing with.

Photo: mscali

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  • resident

    If it were just about saving a tree vs. movig a ConEd feed, I think it would be a 7-0 vote to save the tree. However, there are other issues. First of all, they can’t do the necessary waterproofing to stop a leak into the building due to the tree. But an even bigger issue is the continuing growth of the tree. As an engineer, I can tell you that the tree will continue to cause problems, eventually irreperably damaging the structural foundation of the building. Lastly there is a liability issue. With the direction in which the tree has grown and will continue to grow the large leaning branches WILL eventually break and hit something. Hopefully it would just be a car, but it could just as easily be a person and that’s a risk the board isn’t willing to take. As a resident of Mansion HOuse, although a relatively new resident, I’ll be sad to see the tree go, but I don’t think the board had a whole lot of choice.

  • Bornhere

    I’ve lived in the Heights since I was born (or about half as long as the tree has lived here) and I’ve always marveled at how this elm could thrive so, um, enthusiastically; yet, if the tree is truly a threat to life or (human) limb, something should be done. But isn’t “off with its head,” even when deemed necessary by “an engineer,” a bit extreme? Isn’t pruning an option? I’m certainly not an expert on trees (I’m guessing that “resident” is a tree engineer…) but I would submit that there might be other choices here — maybe even some that are a bit more forward thinking than cutting the thing down.

  • http://www.jonesandwhite.com Bob Smith

    I doubt the owners of this building just decided “Hey lets cut this down for no reason”. It looks to me to be inches from the foundation of the building … maybe that had something to do with it!

  • hjjtakeou

    it’s an elm tho, right? I don’t think it has issues about being so close to the foundation. Elms don’t have the root problems so many other trees have.

    And I’m surprised the engineer above thinks the elm will continue to grow and break something. Elms only grow as big as they’re allowed (thus, the roots stop and wont’ continue to grow into foundation). This tree is probably as big as it’ sgoing to get. Pruning would be helpful, but it poses no risk. It looks to be about 75 years. Put in human years, that’s like a 25-yr old.

    You’ll miss it when it’s gone. And watch that ConEd bill shoot up

  • guest

    hey-maybe they should just astroturf that new garden too!

  • residenté

    As “hjjtakeou” wrote, the roots pose no threat to the building. And given that the tree and the building are about the same age, any significant damage caused by tree roots would have already manifested itself. Essentially, the tree is done growing. As long as it is healthy, the benefits it provides far outweigh the risks it poses. For “resident:” a tree expert from Bartlett has provided detailed documentation attesting to the lack of risks to the building that the tree poses.

    Many of our street trees here in the heights, being less hardy varieties than this majestic elm, are far more likely to fall on people, cars, and other objects than this tree is.

    Also, removing the tree will kill it. This is arborcide. In the karmic realm its a pretty bad thing.

  • eak

    Here’s information about the tree situation:
    The tree is an American Elm, ulmus americana. It is sometimes known as White Elm or American White Elm. It is an extremely hardy tree. Healthy potentially can live for hundreds of years.
    American Elms, especially beautiful mature trees like this one, are de facto endangered species, given the devastation caused by Dutch Elm Disease.

    The Board and others asked several experts to examine the tree, including Bartlett Tree Experts, Prospect Tree Service, landscape architects and others. All report that we have a very healthy tree. There is no sucker growth and no dead branches, and the tree has a healthy leaf canopy.

    John Kilcullen, who cared for the tree while working for Bartlett Tree Experts, estimates that the tree is approximately 80 years old – it can live up to 300 years

    According to Bartlett’s report (attached), “since the tree has reached its mature size, an increase in trunk and/or canopy size is unlikely.” Bartlett has provided pruning and cabling to preserve the canopy and support the tree’s crotch areas.
    Bartlett concludes its report with the following statement: “With the likelihood of imminent failure of the Mansion House Elm low, the tree can remain in the landscape.”

    Engineering studies completed for the Mansion House portico project indicate that the tree’s roots do not threaten the building. A landscape architect consulted on the matter notes that Elms do not have invasive water-seeking root systems, like red maples and other trees have, so it is not a threat to our foundation. Since the tree is so old and mature, any damage from it would have occurred by now.

    The portico architect notes that the tree is probably causing a leak where the electrical conduit enters the building by pressuring the conduit. Given the fact that the tree’s root system is not invasive, it probably has not contributed to other potential leaks.

    The best way to fix the conduit is to reroute it away from the tree. The Board has estimates from electrical contractors for this work, which the contractors say can be done readily. We can weather proof the building from inside to stop other potential leaks, instead of cutting into the trees roots and killing it.

    Rerouting the conduit and water proofing the leak from the inside and saving the tree is well worth the effort. The Board based its decision on financial analysis that credited the Elm itself with no value for the building or for the neighborhood. Omitting the value of the tree is simply incorrect analysis.

    The Elm’s value to the Mansion House and neighbors includes the following:
    • Water repellent. The tree’s canopy repels water from our building and from neighboring buildings, adding to the life of the building façade and to other buildings.
    • Water absorption. The tree’s root system absorbs rain water from the garden area, keeping if from pooling and from pressuring the foundation.
    • Energy savings. The tree’s canopy shades a large portion of the building’s B-side façade, reducing cooling expenses for all residents within its shade. It also helps reduce the temperature in the garden by several degrees below the sidewalk area, providing the “Mansion House welcome” that many appreciate.
    • CO2 reduction. As the Parks Department notes, trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Big trees like this one do it best.
    • Property value. The Parks Department and many other sources report on research that states that homes with trees in front sell for more money. Conceivably, the tree could add one percent to the value of our apartments. Assuming an average market value of $600,000 for the 108 apartments and a one percent market increase due to the tree, the tree adds $648,000 in value to Mansion House apartments as a whole.
    • Other value. The tree also helps absorb street noise and provides habitat for birds and other wildlife.

  • Eric

    It is a tree. Trees are nice. But see, people and their needs are more important.

    When your IQ is close to that of the tree this may be difficult to understand, but trust me humans are more important.

  • anon

    Eric — That’s the most inane comment of about 50-60 comments about the tree that I’ve read on blogs — most of which have enlightened both sides of the debate. Are you a squirrel living in this tree, or a rat living amidst the roots? Please get out from your hiding place and experience something real.

  • Rocco

    Eric, unfortunately, if we did not have trees we would not be able to live on this planet. We are extremely lucky to have an American Elm tree. Millions and millions were cut down because of the Dutch Elm Disease. This tree was spared.

    This tree helps us breathe by taking in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and other poisons from the air. It then returns large amounts of pure oxygen to the atmosphere which enables us to breathe. In one year, a large tree, like this one, produces enough oxygen to fill 800 houses.

    It shades our building and is a natural air conditioner.

    It makes soil and protects soil.

    It protects our courtyard from flooding by having all the roots from the tree soak up the water.

    It turns down the volume, making the neighborhood quieter.

    It releases as much as 300 to 400 gallons of moisture into the air each day.

    It provides housing, food and protection for wildlife.

    This tree is healthy because of a regular pruning schedule, fertilization programs, safety cabling and inspections on a yearly basis.

    This tree has a monetary value of about $60,000 to $70,000. Which appraisers now consider to be extremely important. With the tree gone the property value will decrease thus each apartment’s value will decrease.

    It’s historic and it is a survivor.

    As for the leaks we have not exhausted all the alternatives. There are certain measures that can be taken to ameliorate the leaks and save the tree.

    Yes, people are important but when they do not have all the facts and make such a judgment they become dangerous. We may not be able to control the war but we can save this bit history for a tree that will shade our children’s children and more. And a building can stand proud for making the right decision of saving this incredible tree.

  • Phil

    A tragedy borne out of irony. It’s a shame and especially since it’s an elm, an American elm. Too bad it wasn’t an iolanthis or a common pine. But eventually everything dies anyway. And for the good of living you’ll just have to consider it a sacrifice. If it satisfies some of you make it sacred ground and genuflect every time you go past it. . .