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Abutters fight Malcolm X Park tree removal

City plans to remove 54 trees as part of park renovation effort

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Abutters fight Malcolm X Park tree removal
Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open spaces, fields questions from abutters during a meeting at the Shelburne Center Monday. BANNER PHOTO

If there’s one thing community residents and city officials agree on, it’s that there was a meeting at Malcolm X Park Saturday, March 13, during which community residents asked Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open spaces, to spare the 54 trees marked for removal.

Abutters to the Roxbury park had noticed that a city contractor days before had marked the trees for removal with fluorescent orange spray paint.

During the meeting in the park, White-Hammond told the residents that trees were marked for removal for several reasons — some to open up views of the park from Dale Street, some to make way for a new sprinkler area that will be added to the playground, a few for the reconstruction of a fence, and the bulk of them so that pathways through the park can be re-graded to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

The neighbors asked White-Hammond for a community meeting and a moratorium on tree removal or construction in the park. But last Saturday, a contractor brought an excavator into the park and began removing a concrete walkway that cuts through the middle of the Honeysuckle Hill portion of the park.

Monday night, community members gathered with White-Hammond and officials from the city’s Parks Department for a meeting that turned raucous at times as accusations flew in the Shelburne Community Center meeting room.

A Parks Department map shows planned renovations to Malcolm X Park.

The meeting began with White-Hammond summarizing the nearly year-long design process that included multiple community meetings and led to the plan for Malcolm X Park. She told attendees that the meeting was to talk about tree removal, not the revisit the design process.

“We’re not reopening the whole project,” she said.

“Yes, we are!” several audience members shouted.

Abutters said they were never informed of the planned tree removals when they agreed to improvements to the park, which include resurfacing the basketball and tennis courts, renovating the playground, adding a small amphitheater and replacing the baseball diamonds with a New England Revolution-branded artificial-turf soccer field.

White-Hammond said she would look into why a city contractor removed a walkway on Saturday, but said the project would continue, noting that the delays add to the city’s $8.8 million bill for the project.

The bulk of Monday’s meeting was focused on the trees scheduled for removal, many of which are old-growth specimens planted when Frederick Law Olmstead’s landscaping firm designed the park. Oaks, buckeyes and honeysuckles are among the 54 trees the city plans to remove in the park, which has a total of 307 trees.

Because many of the paths on the Honeysuckle Hill portion of the park, which city officials say stands 90 feet above the playing field, are too steep for wheel chair access, the city plans to excavate the paths and create a gentler slope. The work would require removing some of the trees along the pathways.

Cathy Baker-Eclipse, the director of the Parks Department’s capital plan, noted that the paths were last paved in the 1960s, long before the ADA passed in 1990.

Abutter Derrick Evans noted that residents, when polled by the city, listed the preservation of trees and shrubbery among their top concerns, ranking it among their top five concerns. “Accessible pathways” was ranked 11 in the poll of 654 respondents.

But Baker-Eclipse and White-Hammond said the ADA considerations override community concerns.

“When we do our community meetings, the community input is important, but it is not our only consideration,” Baker-Eclipse said. “We’re trying to balance all the different inputs in the design. There are some things that we see as professionals are necessary.”

White-Hammond said she had an aunt who lived near the park and was unable to access many of the park’s paths while using a walker.

“A couple of degrees of slope means a lot of people cannot have access,” she said.

While she acknowledged some of the trees, including those targeted for removal because of their proximity to a fence along Paulding Street, could be saved, she said many would have to go to regrade paths and make them more accessible.

“It’s a tradeoff,” she said. “Some of the trees are coming down because some people can’t access the park at all.”

Evans countered, “There are portions of the park, like the summit of Honeysuckle Hill, that were not meant to be accessible.”

Evans and other neighbors pressed White-Hammond to suspend the project until they reach an understanding about saving trees.

“We’d have to stop all construction,” White-Hammond said.

Community members applauded.

While White-Hammond reiterated the fact that contractors working for the city would have to be paid, whether they perform the work or not, the neighbors insisted the work stop.

“It’s like you have a bargain sale and trees have to be cut down because you have a contractor coming in, who’s not from the community,” said Dorothea Jones.

White-Hammond agreed to compromise on some of the trees slated for removal but did not agree to stop the construction in the park. White-Hammond also agreed to a follow-up meeting but has not yet scheduled one.

Malcolm X Park, roxbury, Tree removal