On Wednesday evening, New Haven officials, Yale officials and concerned city residents came together at City Hall in a public hearing to deliberate over the fate of 18 trees.
The meeting was the product of a situation designated by Connecticut state law, which states that whenever a city’s tree warden is planning to remove a tree, she must post a notice on it stating that intent and, if she receives any written objections to the removal, the city must hold a hearing at which residents can express their concerns. At the meeting, Yale put forth its plan for the beautification of Prospect Street, which would require the replacement of Norway maples with scarlet oaks, and New Haven residents responded to the presentation with their opinions.
“This is Yale’s proposal,” said Christy Hass, New Haven’s tree warden and deputy director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees. “The city has to decide if they’re going to allow it or not.”
As the tree warden, Hass will ultimately make this decision, and she must do so in the next three days under state law.
Alice Raucher, architect and planner of the Yale Office of Facilities, presented a modified proposal to hearing attendees. Though the original plan involved replacing 18 Norway maples with 21 oaks, the proposal presented at the hearing scaled the changes back, calling for the replacement of seven of the maples with nine new oaks. Raucher said Yale hopes to “improve the landscape along Prospect Street” as well as “address issues on Ashmun Street” with these changes. In addition, she said, Yale plans to build a curbed brownstone wall to form a planting bed along the sidewalk on Prospect, as well as install new pedestrian lights. Raucher added that the maples currently pose a tripping hazard because they have shallow, exposed roots.
Colleen Murphy-Dunning, the director of the Urban Resources Initiative, a nonprofit University initiative affiliated with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, presented scientific findings about the maples for attendees to consider.
“Maple species are more likely to break in storms and have cavities than [other trees],” she said, alluding to research conducted by Jeff Ward, the chief scientist of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Not only are Norway maples an “invasive species” with “weak forks,” said Murphy-Dunning, their branches were among the most commonly found during the cleanup after Hurricane Irene last year and the tearing of Norway maple branches only leads to more internal decays and cavities. She added that in Ward’s assessment of each of the 18 maples on Prospect Street, many will need to be removed in the immediate or distant future.
After hearing Raucher’s and Murphy-Dunning’s presentations, New Haven residents and Yale students offered their views on the new proposal. Some felt that the revised plan offered a good compromise, as it would preserve some of the maples while allowing Yale to execute its beautification project. Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said the proposal would make Prospect Street more comfortable and attractive to pedestrians.
But others lamented the loss of the trees’ aesthetic value. Fabian Drixler, a Yale history professor, said, “There is a beauty to a mature tree that cannot be replaced by the beauty of a youthful tree.”
If approved, the plan will take approximately two months to implement.