A four-year battle between Forest Hills residents and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) has been reignited as residents claim the company is destroying the community’s aesthetic beauty, reducing property values and harming the quality of life by tearing down trees.
“We [Forest Hills residents] want the LIRR to be good neighbors,” said Anna Guasto, chairperson of the Tennis View Apartments co-op on Burns Street.
She added that the LIRR does not communicate with the community when cutting down trees. The controversy arose on June 18th when the LIRR cut down a century-old oak tree near Burns Street as a “preventative measure,” in case the tree ever onto the tracks. This caused flashbacks for residents who remembered the LIRR’s clear-cutting of hundreds of trees in 2007.
“We are their customers but they are not being friendly neighbors,” said Guasto. “The LIRR came two years ago and led us to believe there was an open dialogue between the LIRR and the community.”
However, the community was given little notice about the tree that was cut down a few weeks ago. “They don’t tell us what’s happening but we are important because you have to go through Queens to get to the city,” said Councilmember Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “We are the forgotten step-child.”
Russ Gundlach, a resident of Tennis View Apartments, learned of the tree cutting only by stepping outside to see a man with a vest earmarking a tree. The LIRR did not tell the community or Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio. They did notify the Gardens Corporation just a few days beforehand, not enough time to get the word out to
the community, residents said.
The LIRR will return to the area to discuss pruning between Ascan Ave and Station Square in the next few weeks. A meeting between the Forest Hills Garden Corporation and the LIRR had been scheduled for July 5 to discuss future plans for pruning the station’s grounds, but by request of the Gardens Corporation, the meeting is to be rescheduled for a later date.
Another meeting between the LIRR and the Forest Hills community scheduled for Wednesday, June 29th was cancelled when the LIRR learned that the local press would be in attendance. A private meeting is to be rescheduled without the press. “A public hearing would be beneficial because people should have their sentiments expressed in an open forum,” said Michael Perlman, chair of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council.
Another point of contention for residents is an unfulfilled promise by the LIRR to replace evergreens removed in 2006.
“The larger picture is that we are losing trees that belong to our community,” said Perlman. “It takes something away from the community—a travesty.”
Aside from aesthetics, residents said the trees cleaned the air, provided environmental sustainability and provided a buffer to the noise created by the ongoing trains. The LIRR also tore down a wall that protected the area from noise in 2008. A sound study funded by Guasto and some neighbors revealed that the apartments have a noise increase of 20 decibels with the windows open. The trees also provided privacy. “You can see into my apartment from the train,” said Guasto. “The property value is affected.”
The restoration effort finds itself at a disadvantage since Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned three weeks ago. In the past, Weiner worked to raise money to solve the noise problem. Both Guasto and Perlman said it was ironic that the LIRR cut down the oak tree with little notice only days after Weiner’s resignation.
Koslowitz plans to remain active in the community’s efforts and give residents a political voice. The MTA wrote in a statement last Thursday that they would replace the trees “if local elected officials, civic groups or residents can fund such a project.” They said they do not have the necessary money to fund the effort.
“They want local officials to help,” Koslowitz said. “My intention is to meet with the LIRR every six months.”
As Koslowitz and Gulluscio assure the community that no trees will be cut down in the near future, “pruning” by the LIRR has resulted in the loss of more trees. Also, Forest Hill residents have taken an impetuous to restore their community, hosting several replanting efforts and tree giveaways this year.
“It takes 100 years for the trees to mature, given the right amount of space and the correct climate,” said Perlman. “It takes an eternity to replace that kind of beauty.”
by Shannon Farrell