By ASHLEY HELMS
The Palmer Avenue streetscape project in Larchmont has touched off controversy again with the village anticipating litigation against the contracting company and construction remaining in limbo until further notice.
The project has faced a number of delays in the past stemming from inclement weather as well as state and construction insurance paperwork issues.
Sparks flew at the Sept. 9 village board meeting when the removal of several trees that lined the downtown business district in connection with the project was discussed.
The streetscape project is intended to revamp sidewalks, streetlights, benches and other fixtures along Palmer Avenue and onto Chatsworth and Larchmont avenues with a grant in excess of $800,000 from the state Department of Transportation. Total costs for the project are expected to reach about $1.6 million.
According to Larchmont Mayor Anne McAndrews, a Democrat, construction was intended to start up again in the beginning of April, but the village was informed that the Weaver Street Bridge would be closed with a detour running through the intended construction area.
The project was originally set to begin in October 2012, but has been on the drawing board since 2000.
The contractor, Mount Vernon-based DiMarino Brothers, was going to start work near the Larchmont train station to see how much could be finished before the bridge was closed, but needed an extra lane on the road for equipment.
“We said to stop at that end; you wouldn’t get done by the time the detour starts,” McAndrews said.
Village officials directed DiMarino Brothers to begin work at the other end of Palmer Avenue, but when work wasn’t progressing, the village decided to declare the company at fault.
The mayor said that, while she can’t get into specifics of the litigation, the village’s attorneys are in discussions with the contractor’s attorneys while the project sits idle for the time being.
McAndrews said she won’t allow construction through the holiday season; this summer would have been the perfect time to get work done because schools weren’t in session and there is slightly less traffic in the area.
“We’re doing everything we can to get this on track,” she said. “We have hopes and dreams of getting the project done.”
The streetscape project has drawn ire from village residents who were concerned about Pine Brook Park being used as a parking lot for construction equipment over the summer as well as concerns over the removal of about 29 trees through the business district that are said to be dying and creating a hazard.
Mayor McAndrews said the village is relying on an arborist and landscaper to evaluate the trees during the delay of the project. She said, according to the village’s arborist, the trees that have been removed were sickly and losing limbs, but that the village intends to plant about 35 more small trees.
“We have a series of younger trees and some of them aren’t doing very well,” McAndrews said.
But that explanation didn’t sit well with local business owner Monica Hoffman, who has been present at numerous village board meetings in order to speak out against the removal of the trees. At the Sept. 9 meeting, she presented the Board of Trustees with a petition containing about 200 signatures of residents who were against removing the trees, despite the fact that more will be planted. Hoffman said she tried to obtain a formal arborist report through a Freedom of Information Law request, but it has turned up no results.
“We’re asking you as villagers for a reason for 29 trees coming down,” Hoffman said.
McAndrews said the village has documents showing the location of all the trees, but not a formal arborist report. The mayor said that John Imbiano of IQ Landscape Architects, who is helping village management with the design and oversight of the project, went tree-to-tree and made notes in a draft form on the condition of the trees, but there is not one consolidated report.
“[Hoffman] wants the original arborist report of all the trees in the project, but we keep telling her over and over again that we don’t have an arborist report,” McAndrews said.
Hoffman, who originally became concerned that a tree her grandfather planted would be cut down, did not think the mayor’s explanation was adequate enough to validate cutting down trees and hired her own arborist whose conclusions, she said, did not match the village’s.
George Steckler, Hoffman’s arborist, said that residents see the existing trees as financial assets to the village and that the Board of Trustees should have paid for professional renderings of what the project area will look like with the removal of the trees.
“You’re already spending $1.78 million; we live in a digital age,” he said.
McAndrews said renderings were going to cost between $3 million and $5 million and felt that they were unnecessary.
“When Miss Hoffman was setting up her schemes, I asked [John] Imbiano about the renderings and then I found out it would cost all this money and I said it was unnecessary,” the mayor said.
The Board of Trustees said it will continue to provide updates regarding tree removal and the ongoing streetscape project.