Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Tree Grows on Burling -- For Now

It's showdown time tomorrow for a tree that was first brought to the public's attention when Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote about it last July. (See here.)

The story, in a nutshell, goes like this:

Multimillion dollar mega-mansions are going up around here quicker than you can say "sold." There is no alley behind the homes on the west side of Burling Street. Therefore, the garages have to go in front.

A man bought a lot on Burling, but there is an old silver maple on the city property that sits between the lot and the street. He's asking for a zoning variance so he can chop it down and build a driveway there.

Dr. Alan Buchman, his next-door neighbor, and others have fought heartily against the destruction of the tree. (Buchman's also fighting a second variance request regarding a property line he and the neighbor share.)

In a separate incident, at least two other trees on the street have been chopped down and a forestry boss pleaded guilty to extortion for taking $5000 per tree from developers to do so.

As Schmich said in her article, the tree is not necessarily spectacular. It's 80 feet tall and thought to date back to the 1800's. But, Schmich quotes Jim DeHorn of Treekeepers as saying, "It's not a great tree. It's old, but it doesn't have much space."

But then he added, "I don't think we're ever going to have big old trees in the city again. We've chiseled away at their domain. So we should honor the ones we have."

A representative from Treekeepers is expected to be at tomorrow's zoning commission hearing, according to Buchman. If my schedule allows, I'll attend in defense of the tree, too. I faxed a letter today to Buchman's lawyer in case I can't make it. Here it is:

To Whom It May Concern:

I live a few blocks away from the tree on Burling Street that is under consideration today. I'm a writer and the mother of two young children. My husband and I have lived in the neighborhood for almost seven years.

We frequently walk in the area with our children and our dog, including along Burling. In October, we trick-or-treated there. The street is an integral part of our neighborhood.

Therefore, I feel compelled to alert you that I am strongly against the zoning variance that will allow a private property owner to destroy an old growth tree. I call on you, as stewards of our public life, to take a stance against the private destruction of our shared trees.

Our city's natural life is not easily replaced. It may seem like it's no big deal, this one tree, but we often lose by increments those things we treasure most.

I hope you'll do the right thing.


Jennifer Roche

Stay tuned.

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