Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Mayor, PennDOT: No Meeting on Front Street Trees

One of four trees slated for removal. A freshly installed pedestrian ramp is visible in the background.

One of four trees slated for removal. A freshly installed pedestrian ramp is visible in the background.

Four trees in the way of planned pedestrian ramps on Front Street are not as old as previously thought and should come down without further public discussion, city officials said this week.

The trees, located in Riverfront Park at the intersections with Radnor and Emerald streets, are slated for removal as part of a PennDOT resurfacing project currently underway between Forster and Division.

A state historic preservation office urged the city and PennDOT last week to hold a public meeting to discuss the removal, noting the trees were in a historic district and possibly planted as part of the early-20th-century City Beautiful movement.

Doug McLearen, of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, wrote on June 23 that his office “strongly suggests that PennDOT solicit and consider stakeholder comments and provide an open public meeting to discuss the project and its potential to affect historic resources.”

TheBurg previously reported that three of the trees were likely American elms dating to 1919, while a fourth was a Chinese elm or maple from the post-Depression era, relying on information from PennDOT project findings.

But Erik Josephson, who was hired this year as the city’s arborist, said at least three of the trees were actually Zelkovas planted between 40 and 50 years ago to replace elms that were likely wiped out by Dutch elm disease in the 1960s.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said Tuesday that in lieu of a meeting about the removal, the city would be holding a public meeting Aug. 24 to solicit input on a multi-year replanting plan.

“PennDOT has indicated to the city that there will be no public meeting before the trees are taken down,” Papenfuse wrote in a message. “The city agrees that a better use of time and energies would be to create a positive, community-supported tree replanting plan for Front Street and Riverfront Park.”

Greg Penny, a spokesman for PennDOT District 8, confirmed Wednesday there would be no public meeting and that his agency planned to go forward with removal, which he said was not only necessary for the installation of wheelchair-accessible ramps but also to improve sight lines for people crossing the street.

Penny also said the pink “X” marks visible on some trees along the road had not been painted by PennDOT, but rather appeared to be a “stunt of some sort.” “It’s just an assumption on my part, but I think it was done to cause some alarm,” he said.

Jean Cutler, a former historic preservationist at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and one of a group of citizens concerned about the tree removal, petitioned PennDOT again on Wednesday to hold a meeting.

“Their loss will mean a great change to the sense of place they help to create along Front Street,” Cutler wrote of the trees. “Harrisburg has lost many of its important resources over the last number of years and healthy trees should not be among them.”

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