Moving to replace trees downtown

06/03/2010 12:00 AM |

The oak tree in front of the Embroid Me store in downtown Riverhead seems peaceful enough at first glance. But it’s on death row.

The downtown Business Improvement District’s management association has chosen this tree as its test case for replacing trees downtown, according to BID board member Anthony Coates.

“The plan of attack is to replace the trees that are breaking up the sidewalks and blocking the way of businesses downtown,” Mr. Coates said. Those trees would be replaced with trees that don’t cause as much downtown interference, he said.

But sensing that removing trees could potentially be controversial, the BID leaders are taking a “slow-moving approach,” he said.

“If we can get one under our belt and there’s no opposition, then we can do three to five more after that,” he said. “The policy is, let’s do one and make sure it’s well received, and if it is, then bid them all out.”

The BID is a special district that taxes downtown business owners and uses the funds for downtown promotions and capital projects. Downtown business owners have been complaining about the trees for years. Not only do their roots break the sidewalks, but those same trees block off storefronts from view, and in the fall, drop leaves all over the sidewalk.

“We all know that this has been a huge issue downtown for a long time,” Mr. Coates said.

One potential sticking point is that downtown Main Street is a state road, so any plan to work on the sidewalks there requires approval from the state Department of Transportation.

Riverhead Town received a $1.2 million federal grant to repair the sidewalks in downtown Riverhead in 2005, but has never spent it. Instead, the previous administration opted to let the DOT administer the grant, since it applied to a state road anyway. But the DOT never started the work, saying there were many other projects it needed to do on Long Island.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter earlier this year said the town will take the grant back. He even got local engineer Lou Kalogeras to design the sidewalks for free.

Mr. Coates said the BID will need to solicit bids for both the test case tree in front of Embroid Me and for any additional tree work it decides to do after that.

The BID’s plans calls for not only replacing the rogue tree, but also the square of sidewalk around the tree, and putting grading and brickwork around it to allow for proper drainage, Mr. Coates said.

He estimates that it would cost between $2,500 to $3,000 per tree, and that about 20 trees need to be removed. There’s no set date for when the tree in front of Embroid Me will be taken out, but Mr. Coates believes it will be sometime in the next two to three months.

In all, the project could end up costing about $60,000 to $70,000, he said, “but downtown certainly will be enhanced by it.”

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