Last hurrah for the cherry trees of Northampton’s Warfield Place

  • Lois Ahrens, a resident on Warfield Place, talks about what the cherry trees mean to her and her neighbors. The city is planning to take the trees down as part of a project to repave the road and widen the sidewalk to bring it into ADA compliance. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Ozeki, a resident on Warfield Place, talks about what the cherry trees mean to her and her community. The city is planning to take the trees down as part of a project to repave the road and widen the sidewalks to make them ADA compliant. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Blooming cherry trees on Warfield Place. The city is planning to take the trees down as part of a project to repave the road and widen the sidewalks to make them ADA compliant. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A sign on one resident’s porch protests the city’s pending removal of the cherry trees on Warfield Place. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lois Ahrens, and Ruth Ozeki, both residents on Warfield Place, talk about what the cherry trees mean to them and their community. The city is planning to take the trees down as part of a project to repave the road and widen the sidewalks to make them ADA compliant. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The cherry trees are in bloom along the city’s Warfield Place. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Liz Gaudet, from left, Oliver Kellhammer, Ruth Ozeki and Lois Ahrens, all residents on Warfield Place, are upset over the city’s decision to take down the neighborhood’s cherry trees as part of a road repaving project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Contruction plans for Warfield Place CITY OF NORTHAMPTON

  • A flyer advertises the neighborhood festival.

Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2021 2:49:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On a recent afternoon, branches full of bright pink blossoms created a shaded canopy over the sidewalk on Warfield Place, a small street that runs between Prospect and Finn streets.

Standing on the sidewalk, a group of neighbors talked about how they plan to hold a celebration of the trees this weekend — the first Warfield cherry blossom festival “and possibly the last,” said Oliver Kellhammer, who lives on the street.

That’s because in the coming months, the city plans to remove the trees. The street is set to be repaved and as part of the project, the sidewalk will be made wider to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The trees, which the city says are diseased, will be removed, an April 12 letter to residents explains.

“We’re all really super upset,” Kellhammer said.

“In Japan, cherry trees are venerable,” said Ruth Ozeki, who noted she is Japanese American. Japan has cherry trees that are over 1,000 years old, she pointed out, and are “a symbol of hope.”

People come to Warfield Place in the spring to see the flowers in bloom, said Lois Ahrens, who’s lived on the street for more than two decades. “It is a city landmark,” she said.

Francine Deutsch is one of those people. She lives several blocks away, and for years she’s been coming to the street in spring to see the blossoms. To her, the cherry trees are “one of Northampton’s great treasures.” She’s hoping there’s still time for the city to decide to delay the project.

“I don’t see why we can’t wait for these trees, if they are on their last legs ... why not just wait a couple of years?” Deutsch asked.

Time for an upgrade

Over the past few years, the city has been addressing a backlog of road paving on major “arterial” roads, according to Department of Public Works Director Donna LaScaleia.

“What we are able to do now is turn our attention to long-neglected side streets that are in need of significant reconstruction,” she said. “Warfield Place is one of the streets that is in poor condition.”

When repaving, the DPW looks at all street infrastructure, and the sidewalks on Warfield Place are roughly 4o inches wide in some places, far less than the required 5 feet, LaScaleia said.

The construction will remove sidewalks on one side of the street and widen them on the other, as well as add concrete wheelchair ramps to the sidewalk, according to the city’s plans.

“There’s an ongoing conversation going on in the city around accessibility, and there are absolutely many locations which need attention to bring them into compliance,” LaScaleia said.

It’s possible to widen the sidewalks and leave the trees, “but the construction activities will surely kill the trees,” LaScaleia said, noting that the city has to dig at least a foot deep to repave Warfield Place.

Most of the neighborhood’s trees also are in poor condition and doing construction around them would damage their roots, according to Rich Parasiliti, the city’s tree warden.

Parasiliti estimated the trees are at least 40 years old. Because they are in a small space between the sidewalk and road, they don’t have enough soil to support them, “They’ve completely maximized their soil volume and are at the point where they are starting to go backwards,” he said.

All the trees except one are hollow inside, he said, and “all have a level of decay inside of them.”

“Even if the construction didn’t happen, the trees are in decline and they will have to be removed at some point because of the amount of decay and issues they have,” Parasiliti said. “There has to be a vision to replace those trees.”

Parasiliti said it’s hard to say how many more years the trees would live and that whoever planted the trees had a vision for the street that residents benefit from now.

“What we do today, it will benefit us for the time that we’re here, but it’s really going to benefit the people ... like our children and our grandchildren,” he said.

LaScaleia shared a similar view.

“We are trying to maximize the benefits to not only current residents but future residents,” she said. “That’s really what this project is trying to accomplish … We are trying to make the best decision possible for everybody.”

‘A difficult conversation’

Residents recently had a meeting with the city about the project, and Kellhammer said he and others did not feel heard.

“It’s this or nothing,” he felt like the city said.

A cardboard sign on one neighborhood house reads: “Without community input, the city decided to eliminate nearly all of the trees on this side of Warfield Place. Tell the Mayor and DPW what you think about that plan!”

“Of all the streets in Northampton?” said neighbor Liz Gaudet, questioning if the street needed to be prioritized for repairs. “Why can’t they fix the potholes and leave us be?”

“What we’re saying is fill the potholes,” Ahrens said.

Deutsch said the city is full of streets that need repairs.

“This is not the only street. The choice of this street without giving the rest of us ample time to propose other things seems highly problematic and very undemocratic,” she said.

Patching the potholes is not a good solution, LaScaleia said. “We always want to reconstruct versus maintain because there are a lot of streets that are in poor condition and patching potholes is also an expense to the city, and it’s an ongoing expense … We often have to revisit the same location to deal with potholes.”

Parasiliti said he is sympathetic to the neighbor’s concerns.

“I clearly understand and clearly respect how people feel about this,” he said. “This is a very difficult conversation to have with folks.”

He added, “I don’t like to cut anything down,” but sometimes it has to be done.

He’s not yet sure what trees will be planted along the street. “I would like to work with the residents to re-tree the street,” he said. “I would want to have their input.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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