Open space is in short supply in Bayonne. In the existing open space, shade and the fully-grown trees that create it seem to be dwindling. That’s why a group of uptown residents is rallying to preserve trees at risk of being torn down to make way for scaffolding and a safety net to construct a new residential apartment building on Broadway and 46th Street. It’s the latest chapter in a saga of opposition to a real estate development at the former site of Resnick’s Hardware store that was originally approved in August of 2015.
Morris Park, a small, but rare, green space adjacent to the 10-story development site is at the center of the recent conservation effort. Twelve feet of the park closest to the site are in an area that may require scaffolding. That area has five fully-grown trees that provide ample shade in the warmer months.
The Bayonne City Council passed a temporary-use agreement in December that authorizes the developer to clear away the trees if deemed necessary to install scaffolding. If torn down, the developer would be responsible for replacing the trees at $500 each, but some residents are claiming that $500 trees would not match the quality of the fully-grown trees currently there. They would also be saplings which do not provide shade for many years.
“We are losing trees in Bayonne, and they are not being replaced. You cannot overestimate the value of open space in an urban region. Future generations deserve those trees and open space.”– Jill Pustorino
“I don’t care if they shut down the park for two years if they give us a beautiful park, but $500 a tree doesn’t belong in this resolution,” said uptown resident Bruce Pickett, who speculated that a tree of that size would cost $50,000. “Have them pay fair value to replace the trees.”
“Environmentally and aesthetically, [the trees] are part of the urban forest,” said uptown resident Jill Pustorino. “We are losing trees in Bayonne, and they are not being replaced. You cannot overestimate the value of open space in an urban region. Future generations deserve those trees and open space.”
“This issue is not about cutting down trees. For me, it’s about safety,” said Third Ward Councilman Gary La Pelusa, who also works as a landscaper throughout the county. He voted against the Resnick’s development project in 2016, and then against a tax abatement for the developer in 2017.
“I lost the battle on the building. I lost the battle on the tax abatement. Now it becomes a safety issue,” said La Pelusa, who voted in favor of the use agreement. “As a councilman, it’s hard for me to put people who are going to use the park at risk. That’s why I was for allowing the developer to take about 12 feet into the park.”
The scaffolding can protect park-goers from falling debris and enable construction workers to operate safely on the project site.
As of January 2, the trees were still standing.
To some, the effort to protect five trees in a park may seem trivial, but many residents are recognizing urban trees’ importance. According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. is losing 36 million urban trees every year while impervious cover, such as pavement and buildings, has increased significantly. Urban trees help moderate climate, reduce carbon emissions, improve the quality of air and water, and can save energy by reducing the need for air conditioning and heating, according to the report.
Urban trees also mitigate rainfall runoff, which in Bayonne results in sewage being pumped into public waterways and added stress on an already outdated and expensive combined sewage overflow system.
Whether those five trees will be removed remains to be seen. Some residents say that the Morris Park trees are already past their prime and may need to be removed sooner rather than later. Either way, the issue of urban trees is right up there with the thorny issue of development.
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.