One of the first conflicts over tree removal between a group of residents and Montclair Township’s new arborist has ended with positive results, according to one resident.  

However, residents in the Fieldstone neighborhood bordering Bonsal Preserve may hire their own tree consultant in the future after being warned their area could be the target of more tree removal in the future. 

LaSalle Road area residents reached out to town officials after sidewalk replacement in their neighborhood resulted in the removal of four oak trees last week.

In Montclair, homeowners are responsible for replacement and repairs of the sidewalks outside their homes even if the damage is done by tree roots of township trees.

When town officials determine that sidewalk work is necessary, the homeowner is notified by the township engineer, directing the property owner to do the work within 30 days after service of the notice. The notice specifies details of the improvement, reconstruction or repairs needed to be made. The homeowner chooses the contractor, who applies for a permit and works with the township engineer, and the tree foreman in the case of public trees being affected.

That was the case on LaSalle Road where four homeowners were notified that sections of their sidewalks were in need of replacement. As preparations were being made for the new sidewalk cement pour, the tree foreman and arborist assessed the trees in the tree belts there and decided four should be removed. 

During sidewalk replacement,
the town arborist determined that some trees on LaSalle could not be saved.
During sidewalk replacement,
the town arborist determined that some trees on LaSalle could not be saved.

In a letter to the residents, township arborist Tom Purtell said one tree at the corner of Lasalle and Elizabeth roads was flagged because “the canopy was shutting down and nearly dead, a second along the south side of LaSalle had an extremely swollen and abnormal shaped trunk flare caused by a tree’s natural decay process, the third and the fourth required extensive root grinding on the entire lawn side of the trees to provide room for a successful concrete pour. Given the prevailing winds that blow through NJ are generally from that side of the tree line, losing those roots would be leaving the trees prone to wind throw.”

Purtell replaced longterm town arborist Steve Schuckman in April. 

Two oaks on the north side of LaSalle however, were approved by the arborist and town tree foreman for root shaving to accommodate the new sidewalk. 

In a letter to the town, residents requested that no more trees be taken down without first consulting the residents.

“This is a big issue in our neighborhood after the removal of four 75-year-old oak trees,” one of the homeowners told Montclair Local. “Lot of emotion on both sides.”

Fieldstone area resident Jonathan Grupper said the old trees are valued by the residents there. He conceded that the sidewalks in question were uprooted by the trees’ roots, but contends that trees could be saved when replacing sidewalks by curving the concrete around the many older trees that are a signature of the neighborhood. 

“We want our sidewalks to be serviceable, but would prefer that the sidewalks be redirected to accommodate, rather than risk, existing root systems,” he said. 

Due to the age of the existing tree canopy within the area of Marquette, LaSalle and Elizabeth roads, Purtell anticipates that “many more” trees will need to be removed over the next few years. The Montclair Shade Tree Division will host an evening meeting in September for residents of those streets to discuss future tree concerns.

“Already it is apparent that many trees are causing issues with sidewalks and are approaching the end of their life span as street trees due to the limited size of the planting belt,” he wrote.

With their tree canopy at risk, Grupper said the Fieldstone group may call in their own tree consultant to get a second opinion on all future tree removals.

The Montclair Environmental Commission hopes to have Purtell at one of its upcoming meetings. said MEC chairman Lyle Landon.