LAKEVIEW — Neighbors are fighting to save about two dozen trees in West Lakeview that could be chopped down for work on the area’s water pipes.
The trees — many of which are decades old and tower over the block — could be cut down in mid-January so the city’s water department can replace the underlying water main, which was installed in 1899, said department spokesperson Megan Vidis.
The trees are all along the east side of Paulina Street between Belmont Avenue and Roscoe Street, Vidis said. Whether they’ll need to be removed will be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on how close they are to the required excavation.
But residents, including Ilya Soussa, who lives along the area slated for water main work, want the water department to explore alternatives that would allow the water main to be replaced without removing trees.
“We want clean water, don’t get me wrong; but there has to be a different way to do this that doesn’t have such an environmental-, financial- and charm-related impact in the neighborhood,” Soussa said.
The 20-25 trees that could be affected by this work add to the neighborhood’s charm, Soussa said, and cutting them down could affect neighbors’ property values and remove shade from the blocks.
“These trees provide so much character to the neighborhood, so it would be devastating to see them go,” Soussa said.
Carline Teichner, who lives just north of the area where the water main replacement will happen, said this work was supposed to happen on her block of Ravenswood Avenue between Addison Street and Waveland Avenue about four years ago. But she got it delayed after she raised concerns about the trees being removed.
“I’ve been told that our project is now scheduled for 2023, so it’s just a matter of time until they come knocking again,” Teichner said.
Allowing the water department to remove mature trees for this work would set a “dangerous precedent” for the rest of the neighborhood, Teichner said.
“If the city is doing this one one block, it sets a very dangerous precedent that it’s a lot easier for them to do this on other blocks,” Teichner said. “I feel like whether you live on the street or not, we should be fighting to stop this so it doesn’t start happening everywhere.”
Ald. Matt Martin (47th) said water main replacements are happening in other parts of his ward, including along Ashland Avenue just north of Belmont and along Western Avenue just south of Montrose. But the work along those streets isn’t affecting any trees because of where the water mains are placed.
For the trees along Paulina, Martin has asked the water department to list every option to getting the water main work done that’s been explored or can be explored before deciding to the remove the trees, he said. The alderman has also asked for a community meeting to be held for neighbors to get more information and ask questions about the work being done.
Martin is concerned about the work because there are a handful of small businesses nearby that could be affected by the water main replacement once the work begins.
“I want to make sure that the work is minimally disruptive to both neighbors and businesses,” Martin said. “The tree issue is an important one, but it’s one of several things that need to be considered.”
Vidis said the water department takes the decision to remove trees “very seriously” and $46 million out of the city’s budget will go toward planting and maintaining 75,000 trees over the next five years.
“We respect [trees’] importance to our environmental health, home values and the beauty of our city,” Vidis said. “We are always looking for infrastructure maintenance and repair options to save trees.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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