Nearly 100 trees axed at retirement home

Arborcide on Arlington

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Residents of Arlington Avenue and surrounding streets are lamenting a perceived “environmental tragedy” in their neighborhood.  

In November and December, workers removed nearly 100 large trees from the grounds of the Cardinal O’Connor Clergy Residence at 5655 Arlington Ave., a home for retired priests. The undertaking was part of an ongoing expansion to provide more housing for the city’s retired clergy.

“Everyone in the area of Arlington Avenue between West 256th to West 259th streets is upset by the cruel and tragic devastation,” said resident Jon Allen.

Several residents questioned whether the trees, including some large oaks standing at over 100 feet tall, had been legally removed. They pointed to the residence’s location in one of the city’s Special Natural Area Districts, or SNADs.

The City Planning Commission (CPC) must approve any development carried out within a SNAD, with the goal of preserving natural features such as rock outcroppings, wetlands — and trees.

But a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said work on the O’Connor residence was proceeding in accordance with SNAD regulations. 

“Any construction, including removal of trees, is being done through proper channels and with permits from the city,” Joseph Zwilling said. 

Juton Hortsman, CPC’s liason to Community Board 8, confirmed that the O’Connor residence received approval for construction and the accompanying tree removal at the site.

The Archdiocese first presented its plans for an expansion at a CB 8 Land Use Committee meeting in July 2012. At the time, the 90,000 square-foot O’Connor residence was home to 33 retired Catholic priests. 

The new building is set to house 20 to 25 priests, and will include a dining room and a chapel. 

Though the committee raised concerns about potential traffic problems caused by construction vehicles, a Press article at the time described their objections as “quickly assuaged” and the meeting itself as “uncontroversial.” 

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