Old London Plane Trees hang over GPL Property
Photo Credit: Darren Lipman

In recent weeks, some of you may have spotted the mutilation of 5 trees bordering the northern edge of Barge Park. These trees, identified as 75 yr old London Plane Trees, have been around longer than most of us and recently met their untimely death at the hands of our new neighbor Greenpoint Landing, and the Parks Department.

How they were chopped down and how much money Greenpoint will be getting out of the deal is rather murky indeed.

Let’s just say, in NYC money really does grow on trees.

Trees are Parks Department business.  When a tree is cut down–illegally or not–the property owner is forced pay the city a restitution based on the trunk width and species of the tree in question.  The restitution (or let’s get real and call it a fine) goes towards planting new trees equivalent to what was torn down. Depending on the trunk width and the condition of the specified tree, the Parks Department will calculate the penalty amount and determine the number of new trees needed to replace the old one.

For example: 24” diameter tree in good condition equals approximately 46 new replacement trees. Costing upwards of $1,500 per new tree.


While measuring tree trunks to appropriate fines might sound odd, tree restitution isn’t a new phenomenon. London has safeguards to protect old and endangered trees. Half way around the world, Melbourne has taken their love for trees to new heights by assigning every city arbor an id number and a personal email account—resulting in floods of amusing letters.

But here in NYC, tree restitution is BIG business for the Parks Department and city coffers. So lucrative in fact, just ask the Staten Island developer who was handed a $307,250 estimated tree removal bill by the Parks Department  for wanting to chop down a 42″ diameter city tree to make way for a new driveway.

Since the passage of a 2010 law requiring developers to foot the bill for every tree they cut down, the Parks Department has been reaping in the profits. In 2014 alone, the Parks Department’s new aggressive stance on tree removal pulled in a whopping $2.7 million dollars, equivalent to 275 removed trees.

Given that money is literally falling off city trees like autumn leaves, why is it then Greenpoint Landing is paying only $414,000 in restitution? And even worse, why were community members told our neighborhood would not even be getting all the restitution money?

Talk about seeing green.

Try to think outside the 11222 zip code

That’s what several of us were told by an local city agency when asked what will happen to the almost half a million dollars GPL is ponying up after butchering the five 75 year old trees encroaching on their property line.

When pressed about why those trees looked like they just walked off the set of Saw III, the Parks Department claimed the tree’s roots were damaged by sea water from Hurricane Sandy and they only had a 20% life expectancy left.

For all parties involved, it was best to do away with them.

Considering there are other trees still standing in Barge Park, located much closer to the water, one must wonder what kind of joke the Parks Dept and GPL are really in on.

Southwest side of Barge Park. Two London Plane Trees hang by the waterfront. They look just fine.


Since we all love some good stats, let’s to get down to the bare facts and see exactly how much life these Barge Park trees really had left. I assure you, it’s A LOT.

Average Lifespan of London Plane Tree = 400 yrs

Average Age of Barge Park trees according to Parks Dept = 75 yrs

Life expectancy rate for Barge Park trees according to Parks Dept = 20%

Potential Years left to live if Barge Park Trees were allowed to remain on City Property?

15-65 Years depending on health


Given the numbers years left on these old trees, why wouldn’t the Parks Department try their best to keep them?

Community members were told from several sources the trees “did not fit into the developer’s plans”.

Ah, but then there is the money…

According to official city rules governing the distribution of funds–any money resulting in tree restitution is strictly allocated to the planting of new trees. GPL’s $414,000 doesn’t go back into the community but into a larger Brooklyn wide pot.

Greenpoint gets the short end of the stick again

Apparently it’s not enough for Greenpoint to lose 5 beautiful London Plane trees,  now the both the Parks Department and City Council’s office want us to be ok with the losing out on GPL’s $414,000 restitution money because according to them soon enough Greenpoint will be  blanketed in trees.

And where is this blanket coming from exactly? Other restitutions such as the Sgt. Dougherty Playground, the City Park’s Foundations “Greening of Greenpoint” and GCEF’s $2 million tree planting project.

Yes, all in all Greenpoint will be getting plenty of new trees in the near future, but at what cost? Old London Plane Trees are slow growing, massive trees–valuable contributors to our society and the clean air we breathe. Ripping them out of the ground because they don’t fit in GPL’s “planned developments” while the Parks Department fills its pockets and spread the love elsewhere is just another example of misappropriated greed.

If we thought getting dissed from GPL’s ice cream party was bad, imagine how the trees feel.

Join the Conversation


  1. NYC parks / NY parks act like for profit institutions, selling out our parks to, food vendors, flea markets, cooperate concerts, soccer leagues. Now selling off trees that go into a general fund. If you take value from a park maybe youshould consider putting the value back into a park not back into the general fund. Almost all the park land in GP WB is active space. We only have one nice passive park, McGorlick. Transmitter park has design aesthetic of a cemetery. I have high hopes we can make Box St park one of the best passive parks in the city, stay tuned.

    1. Not only do “they” cash in on our Parks and leave our neighborhoods covered in trash and debris from events, they then have the gall to ask for neighborhood volunteers to clean our parks and neighborhoods. Calling it an opportunity! I guess so they can save money and not create park JOBS. What do they do with the money? Promote Beer companies. Create jobs for AA rehab centers.

  2. this is a ridiculous article for many reasons but it’s worth pointing out that tree restitution is only required on public property.

    there are much bigger problems with GPL than the parks department, who receives a measly 0.5% of the city’s annual budget yet is expected to create and maintain beautiful spaces across 30,000 acres. they can use all the help they can get – including tree restitution money.

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