Following years of similar complaints from her neighbors, Derr personally inspected and cited nearly 70 instances of hazardous uprooted sidewalks in her neighborhood and nearby Bellerose, measuring decayed stumps and noting a number of tree-related violations in her neighborhood.
However, when she brought her claims to the Parks Department, she was told to contact 311 to make individual claims on each of the violations.
“I’ve lived here since 1972 and some of these stumps have been here for decades,” Derr said. “This isn’t a new problem and it’s just getting worse.”
Derr was also told they would only remove her stump if she agreed to replace the empty sidewalk space.
“I don’t want a new tree,” she said.
After taking her complaints to State Senator Tony Avella, who contacted the mayor’s office and spoke directly with the Parks commissioner, he too was told current protocol requires residents to make all complaints through 311.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen an agency refuse to take a complaint from a community person, but also an elected official,” Avella said. “She did all the work. How dare a city agency tell her and me, 'we’re not accepting this?' It’s unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable.”
He added, “Anybody who has ever called 311, even for one complaint, knows it can take 20 minutes.”
Avella has long opposed the former Bloomberg administration’s MillionTreesNYC initiative, citing poor planning and residential burden. He currently has a bill in Albany to focus on repairing uprooted sidewalks and damages due to an abundance of trees.
“I’ve always advocated for the City Council to provide more funding for this,” he said. “It’s about time that the city recognize that you have to take care of these trees. They’re city trees. They’re on city property.”
Jaswant Singh lives right across the street from Derr, and said she too has numerous trees causing problems with no response from the city.
“I called 311 three times and got no response for anything,” Singh said, pointing to roots growing through the sidewalk by her home.
Nagassar Ramgarib, past president of the Queens Village Civic Association and member of Community Board 13, said, like many other residents in the neighborhood, his sidewalk has also come up because of overgrown tree roots.
“I was told, in a nice way, that if I don’t fix it in two weeks that my insurance is going to be pulled and my mortgage company is going to be notified,” Ramgarib said. “This is an ongoing problem in Queens Village.”