Concerned environmentalists in Chicago should know better than to expect satisfaction when the fate of a 100-year-old maple tree rests in the hands of the Department of Streets and Sanitation. In fact, when said tree is blocking the development of a multi-million dollar home, as we learned from this instructive Tribune report, they shouldn't just expect to lose their argument, they should also prepare to watch the object of their mercy get fed into a wood chipper. Ah, preservation, the future garden mulch of hippies and pussies.
The 100-year-old silver maple tree in question fronted a vacant lot on the tony 1900 block of North Burling owned by developer Karl Norberg, who plans to build a home and live there. The tree would have blocked the planned driveway for the home, so Norberg applied for and received a permit to remove it. Not so fast, said his tree-hugging neighbors, Alan and Diane Buchman, who said that Norberg bought the lot knowing the tree would block a potential driveway and should have planned to park on the street. The Buchmans were so concerned about the fate of the tree that they installed a security camera to watch it.
Streets and Sanitation spokesman Matt Smith (formerly known to Chicagoist as "The Rat Guy") says that Norberg's permits are all in order, and that he should reasonably expect to be able to park on his own property, especially when the alternative would have meant getting tree sap on his Mercedes. He received the tree removal permit only after agreeing to pay the city $18,000 for its removal and replace it with a new tree. Furthermore, Smith says city arborists studied the maple and deemed it likely to die in the next few years. And by a few years, he meant this week when it was felled by city chainsaws.
Ever vigilant, the Buchmans hired their own arborist, who of course found the tree healthy as a horse. They say the deal Norberg made for the permit was tantamount to a bribe, which isn't without precedence. One city official has already been indicted for handing out tree removal permits as political favors. They also claim that 43rd Ward Ald. Vi Daley ignored their pleas for help.
As much as Chicagoist loves trees and wishes all our streets could be lined with honeysuckle and cherry blossoms, we also acknowledge the futility of the Buchman's protest. Their neighbor owns that property
including the tree, and he could have carved it into a totem pole for all they cared, and he had a reasonable right to demand an easement through the city parkway, though we agree with the Buchmans that the deal smells fishy. It's a matter of property rights, and like it or not, that's the way things work. Smith summed it nicely when he said, "Occasionally you are going to have conflicts [between nature and development]. They have happened before and they will happen again." In other words, Development 1, Nature 0.