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Historic Teaneck Oak Tree To Be Cut Down, Official Says

Tree expert’s report points to safety hazard from Cedar Lane oak.

UPDATE: Experts Agree Centuries-Old Teaneck Tree Should Be Removed

A centuries old oak tree in Teaneck that residents have long fought to preserve will be chopped down after a tree expert determined the oak presented a "real hazard to people and property," a county official confirmed Friday.

The tree, which is maintained by the county, is set to be removed by Memorial Day, said Jeanne Baratta, chief of staff at the Bergen County Executive's Office. County officials briefed various Teaneck stakeholders on the situation earlier Friday.

"The county did a lot of due diligence on this," Baratta said. "This is a safety issue. The tree has severe decay."

Baratta said the tree is largely hollow, attracting termites and officials are concerned it could come down in a major storm. An initial review suggested the tree was in good condition, but a more thorough follow-up inspection uncovered rotting and described the tree's condition as hazardous.  

"This tree, in my professional opinion, must be removed as soon as possible. The tree poses a real hazard to people and property. There is no treatment or method of care that will eliminate the hazard that this tree poses. Removal is the only option," William R. Comery, a certified tree expert hired by the county, wrote in an inspection report obtained by Patch.

"The potential targets because of the location and size of the tree are many, including motorists, pedestrians and young children and staff in the play area under the tree canopy," the report states, also pointing to possible damage to property and utility lines. 

Past efforts to chop down the tree have prompted opposition from residents. Supported residents pushed to save the tree and the land was granted a county conservation easement in April 2011, a move that protected the site and put its care under the county parks department.

The Puffin Foundation, which helped fund the easement, planned to have its own tree expert conduct a review, Baratta said. 

A decision in early 2010 by former property owner the Union for Traditional Judaism to remove the tree led to a public outcry.  UTJ filed for bankruptcy and the land was purchased by Netivot Shalom, which vowed to save the tree.

Teaneck bestowed historic status on the tree last year in a move many thought would provide longtime protection for the 250 to 300 year old oak at the corner of Palisade Avenue and Cedar Lane. 

Representatives from Netivot Shalom and the Puffin Foundation could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon. 

A copy of the tree expert's report is attached to this article as a PDF.  

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Alison M. May 19, 2013 at 03:31 AM
What exactly are these plans?
Fran S. May 19, 2013 at 03:44 AM
300 year old tree but it's hollow? I don't think so. Another " opinion" is definitely called for.
Fran S. May 19, 2013 at 03:45 AM
...which just survived a hurricane....
Freddie Barber May 19, 2013 at 12:54 PM
How many $'s spent on this already? Anyone have a tally? The ones requesting more paid studies will be be the first complaining about taxes required to make such studies.
Michael Rogovin May 19, 2013 at 02:10 PM
The nature of the Internet allows for anyone to post comments and state or imply things that are simply false, but take on a veneer of truth simply because they are published. Unless you have personal knowledge and are willing to state how you have such knowledge, it is irresponsible to make accusations in the public sphere. As a board member of the current property owner (Congregation Netivot Shalom) who personally testified at the Council to save the tree (before we owned the property) I can state the following categorically. (Note I am speaking as an individual, not on behalf of anyone). (1) The property owner is in favor of the tree staying up so long as it is healthy and safe. We use the land around the tree for a play space for our children. There is also a day care program in our building that uses the land for a play area year round. We benefit from the tree in many ways and share the sentiments of many in the community who love it for its majesty, beauty and historical reminder of our town's history. (2) The property owner granted a conservation easement to the County that states that the County alone is responsible for maintaining the tree and determining its safety. There are no plans for the site other than its current use. If the tree can be preserved safely, we would favor keeping the tree. We will mourn the loss of the tree along with others in the community.
Michael Rogovin May 19, 2013 at 02:15 PM
(3) Several tree experts evaluated the safety of the tree. One cannot judge the safety of the tree from looking at it from the ground. Saying it looks healthy is as silly as saying a person who has a fatal disease appears healthy. You don't know what is going on without an examination. A careful reading of the report shows that several certified experts say that while an INITIAL inspection indicated that the tree was in good condition, SUBSEQUENT more thorough inspections (from the air, of the roots, and measuring the density of the wood of the trunk) indicated severe conditions not visible by passers by, including termites, rotting, and other factors that present a significant safety concern. Were this tree in a forest, it could be fenced off to prevent potential harm. But the combination of the probability of catastrophic failure and the potential harm of a 24 inch thick limb falling onto a car, pedestrian, child in a playground or onto our building means that the risk is quite high. It could happen a year from now or tomorrow.
JamesTS May 19, 2013 at 02:17 PM
I dont even understand how this is a big deal... Bergen County has no hidden motives to cut down the tree. They are worried about safety. Do you think they care about Teaneck petty politics?? Comment posters really need to READ articles first: "This is a safety issue. The tree has severe decay." is what Bergen County Executive said. AND you can download and read the entire report for yourself. The tree inspectors said on many pages that this is dangerous and could hurt people. Only in Teaneck would this be a huge problem..
Who Is John Galt May 19, 2013 at 05:02 PM
For the love of god, it's just a tree!!! There's enough problems all around us that need more attention than this darn shrub. This debate is like comedic satire, fit for Saturday Night Live. This can't be a real debate. As I read this I'm looking around for hidden cameras. I think I'm being punk'd.
Bruce Jones May 19, 2013 at 05:43 PM
I remember this story about a decade ago, I still do not understand why a healthy limb of the tree was not cut off for re-planting at the site. Death is a natural part of the life cycle. We do not need to fall into financial straights trying to preserve something that will inevitably die. There is no shame in letting go. I would prefer the same amount of effort was spent in trying to take care of our struggling neighbors.
Esther Sandrof May 19, 2013 at 05:46 PM
I hope they build a Walgeens there. It would be a fitting tribute to our priorities.
Barbara Ley Toffler May 19, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Michael Rogovin, thank you for on-the-mark comments about fact and posted comments. Unfortunately, many of us in Teaneck have become more than a bit paranoid because of retaliatory actions taken against so many decent people. Thus, antennae went up, given the recent events around our Memorial Day speaker, when the article stated that the tree had to come down by Memorial Day. Until a few years ago I would have called a statement like that a foolish conspiracy theory. Living back in Teaneck for the past 9 years allows me to make that statement with a sadly straight face.
Michael Rogovin May 19, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Bruce: This type of tree cannot be propagated from cuttings. Unfortunately, no one (other than a few squirrels perhaps) had the foresight to collect acorns from the yard last fall. If by chance we see any seedlings that seem to be from the tree, we'll see if it is possible to transplant them. I also want to reiterate that while the town was informed of the decision, it does not have a decision-making role in this matter. It is up to the County. Also the costs of the tree are privately financed, so it is not a budgetary issue for the taxpayer. Finally, I was happy to participate in the planting of two trees in Martin Luther King Jr Park today as part of the Town's Arbor Day celebration. It was announced that over 200 trees were planted in Teaneck this year, including a replacement for the fallen tree at the Municipal Building. Thanks goes to the Council for allocating funds for tree planting.
John Santaella May 19, 2013 at 07:56 PM
The most fitting tribute of such an endeavor would be the lack of parking.
larry May 19, 2013 at 08:03 PM
I think there is some politics going on here - some "under the table" money changing hands!!! This tree withstood Sandy when hundreds others did not. It withstood a few prior storms where hundreds of trees fell. It withstood countless storms in its 300 years - now it is about to fall! Give me a break. Anything can be a danger in a severe storm - why don't we just cut down all the trees in Teaneck so they don't fall on anyone? I doubt that any children will be playing nearby during a storm so what is this nonsense that children's safety is a concern. I believe this tree MUST remain and that it is safe - all this bull about it being a danger is a diversion by those who wish to profit.
Barbara Ley Toffler May 19, 2013 at 09:53 PM
As I said, Michael, my recent years in Teaneck make me suspicious of too much. However, it is well-known that there are ties between members of Teaneck leadership and various county officials. Listening to myself, I think "Crazy!" But what I've seen and lived through in the last 9 years in Teaneck is beyond anything I seen or experienced in a variety of cities and towns in the 62 years before that. Who knows. We'll wait and see.
PM May 19, 2013 at 10:07 PM
The TREE had some nasty thoughts about the Town Council and therefore is being cut down.
Stevie May 19, 2013 at 10:58 PM
Of course, Barbara Ley Toffler wants to keep fighting for a potential health hazard. Did everyone forget the two people who dies when a tree fell on them during a storm? Does Toffler even care? Of course, she is no stranger to lawsuits, having embroiled the town in several costing us at least tens of thousands of dollars.
delgado May 19, 2013 at 11:19 PM
delgado May 19, 2013 at 11:24 PM
The Bergen County Government has a recnelty new Contract which allows a "politically connected" tree cutting firm to get paid for every tree it cuts down. According to the Freeholder resolution it is worth about $300,000, so this tree firm has an incentive to cut down trees. With the Adminstration and people like Political mastermind and former District 37 official Rocco Mazza in the Bergen County adminstration, its clear this tree was targeted so the firm could make more money. It is a bit odd, the tree was considered safe recently, survived 100year storm Sandy and now after the contract is approved - it must be destroyed.... imho
delgado May 19, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Long term Teaneck volunteer and Community Activist/ Internet Enterprenuer/future US Congressman Castle will save the tree by buying the property.
delgado May 19, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Your 100% right. Bergen Chief of Staff Barrata(and Fair Lawn Deputy Mayor) is very close friends with former District 37 Official one Rocco Mazza and even hired Rocco to a plume County "Communications" job. Its clear Rocco knows people in Teaneck and some/several people want the tree down. With these connections, money is very easy to change hands... Also the other red flag is Memorial Day deadline...less people are watching.......imho
Barbara Ley Toffler May 20, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Please check your facts. Personally, I have no feelings one way or other about the tree.Haven't been involved at all. Just curious as to why it must come down by Memorial Day. In my era we were fighting for acceptance of Jews and African-Americans in Teaneck. And the township came together. Sorry you didn't experience what we had.
Barbara Ley Toffler May 20, 2013 at 12:10 AM
The property is owned by Netviot Shalom( see Michael Rogovin above). No one is buying, selling or building on the proprty
Alison M. May 20, 2013 at 04:20 AM
The fact remains that the tree has not been evaluated by an ISA certified Master Arborist. The report recommends (on pages 16 and 23) that a certified arborist evaluate the tree while leaves are present, and states that the vitality of the tree could not be evaluated at the time of Comery's inspection because the tree was bare. It is far from crazy to think that money might have influenced Mr. Comery's report. It would be prudent to get another opinion. Mr. Rogovin, is there anything that Netviot Shalom can do to request that the County allow an ISA certified master arborist to evaluate the tree, and ask that they follow the arborist's recommendations? Even though technically the decision is made top-down, there has to be some way of personally interjecting in a way that can have an effect. There has to be some way of creating a dialogue.
John Santaella May 20, 2013 at 09:21 PM
If the tree is removed I hope it is made into paper to be used for history books only.
Tina Horowitz May 21, 2013 at 12:08 AM
shimon baum May 21, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Isn't it enough that we have to worry about trees coming down every time there is a storm? Why do we need to preserve a tree we all ready know for a fact is in bad condition. If it's historic they can still preserve it after they cut it down. It's not like it talks and can tells us about history.
Tina Horowitz May 21, 2013 at 02:34 PM
If the tree is truly in bad shape and a danger, then yes it has to come down. We are asking for the cutting to be postponed so other opinions can be brought in. There has only been one assessment that says the tree is this dangerous - others in the past have NOT said this.
shimon baum May 21, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Seems like its been postponed for 350 years. Yes in the past the opinion was different and now obviously the condition has changed.
John Santaella May 21, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Trees don't rot in one year.


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