A view down South Street on August 3, above, and a century-old tree being removed Monday. (Photos by John T. Ward, above, and Kenny Katzgrau.  Click to enlarge.)


The abrupt removal of nine trees along South Street in Red Bank this week was “unavoidable,” according to interim borough Manager Darren McConnell.

Residents, though, said they were in the dark about the plan until it was too late to change it.

Interim borough manager Darren McConnell,  center, meeting with South Street residents on Tuesday. Below, a tree that was spared, even though its roots are lifting the sidewalk. (Photos by Jeff MacPherson, above, and John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

South Street homeowner Kristen Donald and other residents said they received notice of the tree removals late Friday afternoon, just days before the work was to start. Donald called that “a chess move” and “disrespectful.”

After hearing complaints over the weekend, Mayor Billy Portman, along McConnell and council members Nancy Facey-Blackwood and Laura Jannone, met with about 20 neighbors and walked the street Tuesday morning.

“It was agreed that four of the nine trees would receive a second look by our tree expert,” McConnell told redbankgreen by email Wednesday. But that second look “confirmed that the trees did need to be removed,” he said.

The meeting with residents “was never going to change anything,” said Donald.

In response to questions by redbankgreen, Shade Tree Committee Chairwoman Remedios Quiroz sent the following timeline:

In April, Bill Brooks, Vice Chair of RB STC, a seasoned arborist, walked South St with the Borough Administrator  and the Borough Engineer  to assess the health of the trees on the street in connection with the South St improvement program. Based on this inspection, 9 trees were identified as either hazardous or causing significant sidewalk lift and should be removed.

In July, the STC received a copy of the construction plan for the South St Improvements from T&M.

Our review of the plan showed that 9 trees will be removed but didn’t show any replacements.

We recommended that all the trees that will be removed be replaced.

The STC appreciates the concerns of the residents of South St. We don’t like taking trees down but hazardous trees have to be removed before they cause harm to people and/or to property. Our goal is to recommend replacement trees that are appropriate for the planting locations and in due time improve the canopy of South St.

The removal is part of a limited street makeover that centers on “a mill and repave of the entire length of South Street” from Branch Avenue to Pinckney Road, McConnell said.

“As part of that project, we are doing concrete repairs as needed in sections where sidewalks, curbs and driveway aprons have been damaged or deteriorated as a result of the Borough-owned trees or other issues that the town would be responsible for,” he wrote. “We will not be doing a wholesale replacement of all the sidewalks, curbs and aprons as that is beyond the scope of this project.”

McConnell acknowledged that residents were not consulted on which trees would be removed; those “were identified by our tree expert in conjunction with our engineer and myself,” he said. They were “either diseased and declining or they were oversized for the planting strip and were heaving the sidewalk and/or the curb adjacent to the individual tree,” he said.

One tree that was spared, however, had residents skeptical of the criteria. It’s leaning over the street and lifting up the sidewalk so much that concrete patches have been made to reduce tripping hazards.

In that case, “we believe  we can remove or lift the sidewalk and trim the roots sufficiently and safely to save that tree and restore the sidewalk, McConnell said. “We approached this in a manner as to save as many trees as possible. Additionally, that tree is currently healthy. ”

While nine trees were removed, more than nine new ones will be planted. They’ll be smaller and “more appropriate for the planting strip so that the new trees do not ultimately outgrow their space, as the current ones have,” McConnell said.

Tree removals associated with roadwork have been a recurring issue in town. Most recently, facing criticism over planned removals in association with the 2021 reconstruction of Hudson Avenue, the borough changed the planned curb line and made other last-minute alterations that helped add nearly $228,000 to its cost.

Speaking specifically of South Street, McConnell said the borough “did everything we could to minimize the number of trees to be removed, but the nine being removed were unavoidable. In addition to the fact that some were declining, and some were causing issues, they are all either Red Maples or Norway Maples which are considered invasive species and removal is recommended when feasible.”

Residents did not have advanced opportunity to weigh in on the trees “as the decisions were made by our experienced professionals,” he said.

Elected officials weighed in on the issue at Thursday night’s semimonthly council meeting.

“Nobody wants to take these trees down, but for various reasons – wires, growing into the sidewalk, roots that couldn’t be removed without endangering the life of the tree – the plan is to plant more trees than we took down,” Portman said.

“The fundamental issue” in residential areas is that trees may be 100 or so years old, when roads  lacked curbs and sidewalks, said Facey-Blackwood. Over time, the planting strips along the roadways “have gotten narrower and narrower,” she said.

Alternatives to tree removal include making the roads narrower or moving sidewalks toward homes, “neither of which is truly viable at this time,” she said, “but it is something we should continue to look at.”

“I hate cutting trees down, and it isn’t just because my last name is Forest,” said Councilperson Ben Forest. “But trees don’t last forever, and we have to maintain them.”

“Clearly, there should have been a little better dialogue with the residents “prior to last week, said Councilman David Cassidy. “But I think they got very good answers in the end.”

The Shade Tree Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 7 p.m. at borough hall.

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