Historic Heights Co-op Planning Arboricide?

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All is not right at the Mansion House, the 107-unit co-op at 145 Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights. According to a poster in the Brownstoner Forum yesterday, the co-op board has decided to chop down the old, but quite healthy, Elm tree outside its front door. The reason, The Brooklyn Paper reports today, is that the board doesn’t want to spend the $8,000 to reroute electrical pipes ensnared in the 75-foot-tall tree’s roots. (The issue has some immediacy because there’s a leak coming from a broken pipe.) That’s what, less than $80 per apartment? Come on! Speaking of the Mansion House, we dug up a neat wood engraving that comes to us from the Long Island Historical Society via Clay Lancaster’s must-read Old Brooklyn Heights. According to the book, the Mansion House was built in the 1930s on the site of a former Brooklyn Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies. Check it out on the jump.
Mansion House to Kill Tree [Forum]
A Tree Falls in Brooklyn [Brooklyn Paper]

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0 Comment

  • Saving $8000?

    I wonder how much it costs to have a tree that size taken down? I guess a little less than $8K.

  • Penny wise, pound foolish. This tree adds more than $80/unit in value to each apt.

    Factor in the cost of removal and the amount saved will be even more minimal.

  • It is ironic that the reason this elm is so healthy is because it is all by itself in the courtyard of an apartment building. If it were surrounded by other trees, it would have probably succumed years ago to Dutch elm disease.
    It is a dilema when such a large tree is so close to the foundations of a building and its trunk leans over the public sidewalk.
    We had a similar situation in my co-op some years back, not an elm, but a large leafy tree. Certain tenants still do not talk to me because I was on the board when it was decided to chop it down. I don’t envy the Board, but they have to take it down. The liability alone is reason enough.

  • there is no liability issues if the tree is healthy. some trees are meant to grow this large.

    it must be costing them 3-5k to get it cut down.

    dumb. dumb!

  • Other, previous boards decided they didn’t have to take it down. This tree didn’t get this large this summer. It’s been large for a long time and perfectly healthy. Experts have been consulted. Not a liability issue at all.

    Issue is the 8k rerouting costs. Period

  • i can almost guarantee they are going to be disappointed once the tree is taken down.

    in a city like nyc, the value of a single tree or small garden is enormous.

    it’s going to be a real dead spot without that nice big tree. and all those apartments will suffer with higher energy costs as it looks as though it provides some much needed shade.

  • Haven’t these people heard of global warming and the importance of trees? Shame on them for killing a healthy elm. $80 per apartment is nothing by comparison to what they’ll be destroying for the entire neighborhood.

  • Removing that tree will completely do away with all curb appeal that ugly building even has. So dumb. I agree with the person who said each apartment will lose value because of the tree being removed. And the AC bills next Summer? All the apartments on that entire side of the building will be cranking their AC up twice as much. Red brick really heats up in the direct sun. Wow, great decision co-op board! (Not) That board is non-environmentally conscious in every sense possible.

  • 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.

  • Shame on this building.

  • It can live up to 300 year’s old? Man, that sucker can even outlast a rent-controlled tenant!!

  • The tree in front of Mansion House adds some needed greenery and shade to the sidewalk. It’s a real shame the board of Mansion House is so short-sighted that they can’t understand that this tree adds value.

  • The tree in front of Mansion House adds some needed greenery and shade to the sidewalk. It’s a real shame the board of Mansion House is so short-sighted that they can’t understand that this tree adds value.

  • The tree is too close to the building’s exterior walls. It is not an ideal situation.

  • Great points, 10:53. When our backyard had been cleared of all shrubs and trees and plants in late Winter, getting ready for planting in Spring, there were some heavy rains that sent nasty muddy water runoff right into our house. Formed a lake at the back of the house at the foundation, and came into the basement through the foundation wall. Plants and trees hold back the water from a foundation!! As for being a canopy to protect a facade and roof from harsh direct sun and rain too – it absolutely protects those surfaces and makes them last longer. There are very ignorant, uninformed, short-sighted attitudes out there about trees. I had a neighbor in another state who cut down a big healthy tree all panicky about the roots slightly buckling the sidewalk, once. After that, his property had only newly planted growth, this in an 80 year old neighborhood when everyone else had nice big trees in their yards. Totally lowered the value and appeal of his house.

  • 11:21, what people are pointing out is that there is (maybe) one downside to this tree, that it’s close to the building, but that there are 20 upsides to the tree being there. It’s called weighing all factors. Not just weighing one factor. Go back to your board at your co-op and tell them that.

  • also not ideal is having 7 people make a decision that is important to an entire neighborhood.

  • Serious question, since most people here seem to know their stuff and appreciate flora and fauna…we have some ivy creeping on to our brownstone from the one next door. I’ve heard this can do damage to the exterior wall. I think it looks nice and, based on the above, must help insulate the place from the summer heat. Can anyone chime in on that? Thanks!

  • Some historical context (below), found in Mayor Bloomburg’s PlaNYC report — it would be sad to go against this legacy and cut down the Hicks Street elm.

    “In 1902, the Municipal Art Society encouraged residents of Brooklyn Heights to beautify their neighborhood by planting sidewalk trees, installing flower-filled window boxes, and cre¬ating mini-gardens of potted plants on their stoops. Called Block Beautiful, this private initiative led to the adoption of the first sidewalk tree planting program.”

  • Yes – 11:29 private property owners should have to consult with the entire neighborhood in deciding to remove a tree, sounds ideal

  • I’m 11:29 and an owner in this co-op. The board is going against the majority of shareholders on this issue

  • As long as the tree is not a danger, then it’s disgraceful that the board would OK the removal. It’s a beautiful tree among all those ugly, peeling sycamores that we have in the nabe.

  • 11:29 and others — What does coop law allow for these situations? Can the membership demand a vote of the entire membership, instead of just the board? What does the coop by-laws allow here? What does City/State law allow?

  • 12:12…you guys should form a ring around the tree in protest!

  • I am also a resident. The board is acting incredibly foolishly, to my great disappointment. Hopefully the passionate advocacy of the majority of owners in the building will put a stop to their plans to remove the tree. The tree is a major factor in the building’s charm and appeal. And it is a highlight of the block, if not the entire neighborhood.

  • 12:12, I agree with 12:21 — you guys must find a way to save this tree and override your inane coop board. You are all shareholders and the tree adds immense value to all your properties, certainly work $80 per unit. I have a large tree on one side of my apartment and no tree on the other side. Comparing each side in full sun (one in the morning, one in the afternoon), the one with the tree is SIGNIFICANTLY cooler than the one without. Period. This is an issue bigger than some greedy coop board. It’s an environmental issue, affecting energy, clean air, and oxygen itself. With attitudes like this, there is really no hope for our future as a society.

  • Some of the blood-lust for the tree comes from the mistaken belief that the tree is in danger of falling. Well, yes it is, and so is every other tree in New York City. So I think we’d just better bite the bullet and cut them all down!!

  • An alternative would be to take up a collection in your building to see if you could offset the cost differential cut down vs. reroute, if indeed this goes against the wishes of most in the building. Seriously, if I lived there, I’d kickdown a hundred bucks to save the tree. If enough people give money, the board will no longer have the rationale to go through with it.

    I think Brooklynites care enough about our trees that you could even sit outside with a table, a sign, and a coffee can and passers by would toss in a little money. If I were strolling by I’d definitely put in a fiver.

    A thought.

  • This Board epitomizes the attitude that makes the Heights about as un-hip as a neighborhood can be. Really like a little red state in the middle of a young enlightened new Brooklyn. Too bad, let’s hope this tree is the end of their reactionary thinking and the limit of their power. Quite ignorant really. The only lovely thing about ugly little Hicks Street is its trees.

  • If it’s only about the 8K, how about an assessment? I hate paying them too, but sometimes you do what you gotta do!

  • I am a mansion house shareholder too. For a board to nickle and dime over the cost of rerouting electric, when they have yet to come clean about what they (over) spent on the new hideous courtyard which we paid for through assessments is ludicrous. Why, they have not even bothered to get the financial statements , which were due months ago, to the shareholders. What are they trying to hide? Talk about fiduciary responsibility! Ha! Save the tree! Shareholders please attend Monday’s lynching…oops…meeting.can we impeach board members?

  • All of this ugliness could have been avoided if the board had simply presented all of the facts and put a vote to the shareholders. Don’t we all just want what’s best for our building?

  • If I were a board member, I would be very concerned about potential personal liability stemming from this Board vote. Typically, the right to destroy or alienate property owned by a coop belongs to the shareholders of a coop, and it is not within the Board’s authority to do so without the full support of a shareholder vote. So unless there is a another side to this story that has not come to light yet, this Board appears to be in the wrong and to have overstepped its authority. The Board should protect itself by reracting its vote and putting the matter to a shareholder vote. A coop Board is held to a high standard of awareness of its own bylaws and local real estate laws.

  • Can the shareholders vote to enforce term limits for board members?

  • 1:39 presents good points. This board is going to get themselves in trouble, because of how this action would affect coop owners financially. If removal of a tree raises temperature thus electric bills in Summer, because of removal of shade, and if the removal of the tree lowers property values for everyone, this board needs to put it to vote with all shareholders! Ugh. You know, this is why co-op sales are slowing. Everyone hears the stories of the crazy power hungry Napoleon complex co-op boards. These boards are always going with what a few in charge on the board want, not with what’s good for the overall building. We experienced that in our small co-op building. I could wait to sell and get out of there.