Church Avenue greenery lovers claim an expanding neighborhood business had two locust trees yanked out of a public sidewalk in a clear-cut case of aboricide — then covered up any evidence of its deed with cement.
Residents charge that Bobby’s Department Store, which is in the process of opening up an extension right where the trees once stood, had the city cut the trees down, then ripped out the stumps and cemented over the empty tree pits before new saplings could be planted.
“It’s sad how some people are working to bring this area up and right next door we are losing the signs of civilization we are trying to keep,” said resident Nathan Thompson. “The coincidence is astounding how it worked out for their construction.”
But department store workers denied the accusations, claiming they had nothing to do with the city’s decision to remove the trees — they just filled in the tree pits to help the city out.
“It was a tripping hazard, to keep the stumps there,” said Mohammed Islam, the manager of the store.
A hard hat working on Bobby’s new storefront agreed.
“The Parks Department came and said the trees were dying because trucks kept backing into them,” said ARCO construction employee David Johnson. “They said they would pull out the stumps, too, but the city takes two years to do everything and we didn’t want to wait two years.”
The city confirmed that it removed the trees on May 23 after receiving a 311 call about the trees’ overall decline. Bobby’s Department Store was not a factor in the decision, a city spokesman said, adding that the Parks Department will investigate why the merchant cemented the tree pits over. The Parks Department had planned to replant the trees within the next two years, the spokesman explained. The city can fine businesses and individuals up to $4,000 for illegal tree removals
But this isn’t the first time Bobby’s has tried to take out a neighborhood oxygen producer, residents claim.
During a previous expansion, workers tried to remove another sidewalk tree to accommodate the construction of a new loading zone, but a neighborhood outcry put the kibosh on their plans.
“Neighbors would be less suspicious over what happened here if we had not gone through this before with Bobby’s,” Thompson said.
—with Ben LockhartReach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg