Wednesday, Jun 19th

What Does Scarsdale Value in 2024?

OakTreeAutenreith(This article was submitted by Cynthia Roberts)
The effort to protect a spectacular Black Oak tree in the historic Old Scarsdale neighborhood poses the question to our community leaders: What does Scarsdale value most in 2024? In an effort to protect a unique, historic and massive Black Oak tree from root damage and therefore premature death, Friends of the Scarsdale Parks, Inc. (FOSP), a local not-for-profit community organization has nominated the Black Oak tree at 21 Autenrieth Road for Heritage Tree designation pursuant to Scarsdale Village code. Heritage trees are given special protections by our tree code.

The tree is located in the front yard of 21 Autenrieth, a stunning brick 1910 Georgian revival home that was bought by an investment group developer to be flipped. It is notable that neither the neighbors pleading with the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) to protect this tree, nor FOSP, has objected to the developer’s proposal to build an addition expanding the living space of the house. Neighbors have merely requested that rather than placing a new garage and new driveway in the front yard of this home next to the oak tree, thereby damaging its roots, the developer use the existing driveway and one of the two existing garages. The neighbors have also supported a viable alternative presented to the BAR by the developer’s architect to place a new garage in a location a safe distance away from the tree.

More than a dozen neighbors have given up their evenings to attend multiple BAR meetings, pleading for respect of this iconic tree, a symbol of Scarsdale’s “Village in a park.” This oak tree was already growing in Scarsdale before the American Revolution, according to the expert arborist’s estimate that it is 275-325 years old.

Neighbors hired expert arborist Bill Logan, President of Urban Arborists, Inc., longstanding faculty member of the New York Botanical Garden, and a Visiting Professor of Landscape Architecture at Pratt Institute. to examine the tree and submit a report. In his report, Mr. Logan emphatically warned about the need to preserve the “green infrastructure” functions of this Black Oak tree, which serves critically important services to human health and the environment: “This oak is an extraordinary specimen, among the largest oaks in Westchester County. It is almost 5 feet in diameter at breast height (57.5” DBH). Such a tree represents an incalculable benefit, not only to the people who can see and interact with it daily, but also to the thousands of mammals, birds, insects, spiders, and other macroinvertebrates that live and/or feed on and in it, as well as to the billions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit it. It is part of the intact ecosystem that characterizes Scarsdale yards and gardens. Its loss would be very serious, not only aesthetically but also ecologically.”

Neighbors are also greatly concerned about flooding from the loss of the stormwater uptake of an oak this size, which is over 10,000 gallons in one year according to i-Tree, a tool of the USDA Forest Service for assessing the benefit of individual trees. “How will the Village protect us from water in our basements after the developer has flipped the house, killed the tree, and left town?”, asked one neighbor.

The consent of the owner of the property is required for Heritage Tree status consideration by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR). And, as was explained to the developer, should a future owner so desire, our code makes provision for a tree to be un-designated by the BAR.

Neighbors and FOSP had hoped that the developer would respect the longstanding value Scarsdale places on our historic trees and consent. But after hearing nothing from the developer for two weeks, there is little optimism that the developer will join our community in protecting our trees.

It is hoped, however, that our own BAR will represent our community’s values and recognize the enormous positive impact this tree has on the character of Autenrieth Road. The Bar can do so by requiring that the developer protect the tree as per the detailed instructions provided by expert arborist Bill Logan.

Over 1,000 trees are cut down each year in Scarsdale and at best, only one third are replaced. To allow this extraordinary Black Oak tree to become another statistic would be a huge loss for Scarsdale and will tell us clearly what Scarsdale values in 2024.

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