On Tuesday evening, New Haven residents and city officials gathered to hear about plans to remove 19 trees and replace them with 18 news ones on Union Street in Wooster Square.
The hearing was one of the final steps for developer Adam America Real Estate to build a six-story building in the neighborhood. The plan began over four years ago and was taken over by the New York–based development company in late 2017 after several years of litigation following the city’s initial approval of the project.
Adam America faced resistance to its current proposal to remove 19 trees, with about 10 New Haven residents attending the hearing, including a number who had clear and important concerns about the project as well as two Elm City alders. Residents were concerned that many of the trees marked for removal were some of the nicest in the square and that removing them would take away from Wooster’s character. Nevertheless, there seemed to be consensus that a deal would eventually be made that was acceptable to all. Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 told the News that he has supported the plan for four years.
“This was an important opportunity to discuss how exactly the developer with the city’s cooperation is going to replace the trees that might be cut down,” Greenberg told the News. “There’s a lot of people with decades of experience as arborists. I defer to their judgements on this. I think we’re going to end with a project with a beautiful greenscape, and it’s just a matter of how we get there.”
Adam America’s plan would replace the 19 existing trees — some of which have been damaged in multiple ways — with 18 new ones. Per city ordinances, the developer must replace each tree they take down or pay a fine. Because these 19 trees are on city property, Adam America had to go through a public process, requiring approval from the city’s tree warden, Rebecca Bombero, before beginning to remove the trees.
The developers are planning to replace the old and partially damaged trees with newer and potentially larger ones. According to Michael Hunton from Langan, the engineering company on the project, the old trees are roughly 20–30 feet, whereas the news ones will start at up to 35 feet. Nevertheless, the diameters of the new trees were still an issue for some, including New Haven resident David Steinhardt who used to be chair of the Fair Haven Management team.
“I think the replacement of the trees and the canopy is important. The concern is about the width and height of the new tree. If it’s a 4-inch tree with a height of 25 or 30 feet, it will maintain the canopy. And I think the developers plan of moving away from the wire will make the trees healthier,” Steinhardt told the News. “As long as they go forward and maintain a 4-inch replacement tree [I’ll be in favor of the plan]. Only time will tell.”
Due to the volume of input coming in from the public, Bombero told the News she plans to leave the public process open a few more days, before making a final decision, likely on Friday.
The decision will be made solely by Bombero, using all the public input she has received in person and through email. She will decide on a tree-by-tree basis, which is potentially significant as some residents raised concerns about particular oak trees that they were fond of. Once she makes a decision, the result will be emailed to all who attended the hearing.
“Anybody wishing to remove a tree needs our permission to do so, and there’s a public comment period, which is 10 days during which anyone can raise concerns. We heard a lot of concerns from the public. As the tree warden, I have to hear both sides and make a decision,” Bombero told the News. “Trees are a public good, so they benefit everybody, not just the adjacent property.”
Despite the litigation and extensive approval process, Adam America is still confident that it will be able to complete its development project. If all goes according to plan, the company expects to begin demolition of the building that is currently on the site within a few weeks. Although the exact timing is not yet clear, it appears as if the project could be completed within the next few years.
Peter Antoniou, a lead developer from Adam America, cited his love of New Haven as one of the biggest factors in its decision to develop property here.
“It’s the first project we’ve done in Connecticut, and we fell in love with New Haven when we came to visit. We’re looking to revitalize the Wooster Square area and connect down to Wooster Square with these projects,” Antoniou told the News. “We’ve been ahead of the curve for a lot of the items and tried be up front to become a part of the community. So we’re confident that the project is going [to] move forward.”
The New Haven City Plan Commission formally approved the Wooster Square development project in 2015.