July 3, 2018

Threat to Trees on Hawthorne Avenue Is Finally Addressed

By Anne Levin

In an ongoing dispute involving trees at a property on Hawthorne Avenue, a step toward resolution was taken last Friday. RB Homes, which is developing a property at No. 258, next door to Galina Chernaya’s home at No. 260, hired a tree service company to treat the roots of five maple trees made vulnerable by construction.

“I don’t know how much it will help us, but at least it’s something,” said Chernaya, who has been trying since January to ensure that the trees that shade her property are not irreparably damaged by the teardown of the house next door and construction of a new one in its place. She has aired her concerns at meetings of Princeton Council and the town’s Shade Tree Commission, and hired attorney Roger Martindell to assist in her efforts.

Chernaya says four of the trees straddle the line between the two properties. But RB Homes disputes that.

“The trees are on our lot,” said Daniel Barsky, part owner of the company with his father, Roman Barsky. “So they are our trees, not hers. One tree in between both properties that she asked us to take down, we did at our own expense. And we intend to do a soil treatment program putting special ingredients in to stimulate the growth.”

Whether the developer was in violation of an ordinance involving tree root protection during construction is unclear. But Chernaya said she was assured in January that the tree root system had to be protected by the developer. Last month, though, excavation work began and many of the roots of the trees were chopped off.

“I and my attorney made multiple requests to address the issue and take action, and also to treat the trees according to a plan proposed by an independent arborist,” Chernaya said last week, before the roots were treated. “The only feedback we’ve gotten is that the municipality is working with the developer to resolve the issue.”

Town arborist Taylor Sapudar visited the site on Friday when the protective work was done. “RB Homes had their private arborist prune all damaged roots above two inches, and flush-cut them clean,” he said Monday in an email. “Excavation of the roots was done with an air spade so the pruning cuts could be properly done.”

After a retaining wall is built, Sapudar added, “RB Homes will be backfilling with topsoil and organic matter. Organic feeding will also be done by the RB Homes’ private arborist to aid in the recovery. What is being done by Barsky Homes is what should be done at this time.”

It was because of the trees on the property that Chernaya and her husband originally bought their home. “They are beautiful maples, giving us so much shade,” she said. “One in the back gives us privacy. We sit there every night, we love it. This property [would not be] the same without the trees.”

Since articles on the dispute were published last week by Planet Princeton and the Princeton Echo, “I have been getting overwhelming support from Princeton residents. I have met more people in a week than in all my 27 years in this country,” said Chernaya, who is originally from Moscow. “Most of these who came to my door had their own terrible stories to tell. A common theme was, ‘My trees were damaged or cut down by a developer but the town was not supporting me when I complained and asked for repercussions. I should have gone to the press and to a Council meeting but did not.’ “

Barsky said that according to the tree specialists the company hired, the damage to the roots of the trees is “superficial.” As for the soil treatment plan, “We agreed to do this additional work, and we didn’t have to,” he said. “But we’ve been in town a long time and we rarely have complaints; we always sort them out with neighbors. This wasn’t that simple.”