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A tree falls in Brooklyn

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Several residents of a Brooklyn Heights building say they’ll chain themselves to an 80-year-old elm before they’ll let their co-op board cut down the historic tree.

It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing battle that appeared to reach its climax on July 18, when the co-op board at Mansion House, at 145 Hicks St., voted 5–2 (in private) to cut down the tree rather than spend $8,000 to reroute electrical pipes that were caught in the path of the tree’s extensive root system.

On Monday, the board will hold an open meeting to discuss its ruling, and residents expect it to get ugly. One shareholder said five or six residents have already agreed to chain themselves to the tree to prevent its removal. “I’m not sure [the board would] like to see that,” the shareholder said. “Especially when the New York Times … shows up.”

Andrea Demetropoulos, one of two board members who voted to save the tree, said the board is framing the elm as a potential liability. Even though an arboricultural expert concluded that the elm is in good health, trees do require regular maintenance.

But that’s peanuts compared to what the building is spending on the current renovation project, Demetropolous said. Costs soared from $150,000 to $400,000, and the co-op board wants to stop the bloodletting.

The tree was a convenient patsy.

Demetropoulos said some of her fellow board members claimed that tree could someday injure someone — a fallacy, she believes.

“An air conditioner could fall out of a window and hit someone,” she said. But Demetropoulos lost — this round.

The decision enraged some residents, including 25-year tenant Allen Kraus, who has started organizing residents to attend Monday’s meeting in hopes of blocking the decision.

“It’s worth [fighting] to save this tree,” said Kraus. “We need to be creative.”

Neighbor Kathy Duncan agrees. “If there’s an alternative, those alternatives should be explored. It shouldn’t be a financial issue or a convenience issue.”

The tree is more than an old friend. The canopy itself deflects water away from the side of the building and lowers air-conditioning bills. Its roots keep water from pooling in the garden. And nothing’s better at oxygen-creation.

No less an authority than Mayor Bloomberg’s 2006 citywide tree census said such trees should be preserved. “Canopy trees confer the most benefits and we need to continue to focus on planting large tree species that will successfully mature.” A full-grown, healthy tree reduces about 70 times the amount of air pollution than a sapling.

But the tree’s value extends beyond our physical and environmental health. To save some money, the co-op board is also ripping out historic roots that connect us to the shade our grandparents once enjoyed.

Phyllis Dicker, a board member who voted to remove the tree, called the decision “a private matter between the board members and the shareholde­rs.”

But is it? This 75-foot tree shades a wide area in and beyond the courtyard of the Mansion House. Too bad the co-op board’s thinking doesn’t stretch any farther than that.

Juliana Bunim is a writer who lives in Brooklyn Heights

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Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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