Clifton Heights Borough residents have been grappling for a solution to a 20-year problem of a large tree causing damage to a residential sidewalk in a cul-de-sac on Chester Ave.
Walking down the right side of the elongated Chester Ave. block midway to the dead end of the street, one notices the pavement becomes incredibly narrow because of the large tree trunk protruding onto the path.
Pedestrians are forced to turn sideways to get through the narrow space between the tree and bushes. In addition to the limited space, pedestrians must also navigate the raised concrete slab resembling a step because of the tree’s overgrown roots, roots that have also affected the curb and street.
A parked SUV, on the day a reporter visited, was situated a foot away from the curb because of the buckled, uneven asphalt.
Forty-eight year Chester Ave. resident and former Deputy Code Enforcement Officer Alfred Rich said the tree, along with the others that line the street, was planted by the borough some 50 years ago “for aesthetic value” to compliment the then-newly built row homes.
The hot selling point of a tree-lined street has turned into a nightmare for 17-year resident Melody Dunn, bearing the burden of the decade’s old tree situated on her property, while trying to sell her home with little success.
Dunn said potential buyers want her to remove the tree, but she said she was quoted $6,000 for removal costs, which she says is too expensive.
“I’ve had the pavement done twice already, but it just keeps coming up,” Dunn said.
Aside from attempting to make her home more marketable, Dunn was also told the tree was “hazardous.”
Dunn said she “called the borough several times,” hoping the borough, which planted the tree in the first place, would assume some responsibility, but instead the borough insisted the onus is on her because it’s on her property.
According to Dunn, Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Tartaglia, who is also borough manager, maintained there was nothing he could do, but suggested Dunn reduce the size of her front yard to compensate for the lack of sidewalk.
Rich said he initially raised the issue some 20 years ago to borough officials when he was deputy code enforcement officer, fearing that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rich said Tartaglia said he would look into the problem.
However, some 20 years later, the problem still persists as the tree continues to become more destructive as it flourishes.
Last year, according to January 2015 meeting minutes, Rich told Council that the tree has diminished the dimensions of the sidewalk. According the meeting’s transcript, Rich said the sidewalk “should be 36 inches so that a wheelchair should be able to pass through,” but because of the tree, the sidewalk is halved to “18 inches,” violating the ADA.
According to a meeting transcript, Council President Anthony Casadei asked Tartaglia to look at the tree in his dual role with borough government.
In February 2015, according to additional meeting minutes, Rich told Council about the tree again, but was told by Tartaglia that he did assess the tree and there “is no such thing as an ADA requirement on a private walk” and that the ADA requirements “are specifically for commercial properties.”
“The Council president got belligerent with me and kicked me out,” Rich said told The Spirit, adding that being booted from monthly meetings, complete with a police escort, has bcome commonplace for him.
Rich said he again contacted federal ADA officials after following their initial recommendation to let Borough Council handle it, but the ADA told Rich by letter that the federal government decided to table his claim “due to the high volume of complaints.”
An ADA public information officer also deflected the issue to a reporter.
He said, “Since each scenario is unique,” the ADA would have to personally observe the situation to make a determination.