HomeHopewell Valley NewsHopewell NewsAddition of sidewalks for East Welling Avenue Road project causes division after...

Addition of sidewalks for East Welling Avenue Road project causes division after trees taken down

The topic of trees and “sidewalks to nowhere” has caused division among residents during the ongoing East Welling Avenue Road Rehabilitation project, which officials say is almost complete.

In November 2021, the Borough Council awarded the project’s contract to Top Line Construction Corporation, Somerville. The borough received a $610,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation Municipal Aid grant for the project.

After discussion for almost a year from April 2021 to February 2022, the council moved forward with the resurfacing of East Welling Avenue from South Main Street to the Hopewell border line, which began in May. The work included adding sidewalks on both sides of the street from the intersection with Baldwin Street, which has an existing sidewalk.

Borough Council President Catherine Chandler said she stands by the council’s decision to add the sidewalks.

“Sidewalks are necessary for pedestrian safety, and particularly this road where there is a significant curve in the roadway and where we have observational data which suggests this road is being used as a cut through to avoid back up traffic on South Main and Delaware,” she said.

Two sycamore trees were taken down for the implementation of the sidewalks.

“The road resurfacing, the curb and the sidewalks are basically completed,” Pennington Borough Mayor James Davy said, noting the borough has plans to plant upwards to 10 trees in the area in place of the trees that were taken down.

Davy added the borough is working with the contractor to restore the section of roadway that was dug up when they had to repair a water service line to one of the houses that started leaking after the road was paved.

Discussion about saving the sycamore trees

Borough Engineer Brandon Fetzer was tasked to see if it was possible to move the sidewalks around or between the trees to save them.

“We pressed the engineer to really look hard to see if we could put the sidewalks in and preserve the trees,” Davy said.

Some of the thoughts included “wrapping the sidewalk around the tree on the outside property” or “wedge the sidewalk between the tree and the street.”

“In short of significantly narrowing the roadway surface, you just could not wrap the sidewalk around the trees without further damaging the trees,” Davy said.

Chandler said the removal of the trees was a concern for her.

“I was hopeful that there was away to install the sidewalks and keep the trees. I know I and other council members worked hard with Public Works and our engineers to come up with creative solutions, but in the end there were none,” she said.

“Also, keep in mind that two of those trees were growing directly under the power lines. Their health and integrity was already compromised and PSEG has the ability to come anytime they want to cut those trees away from the power line.”

Not all residents of East Welling Avenue agreed to the addition of sidewalks to the project. Some residents voiced concern about the removal of trees.

“We have lived on this street for 39 years. When our kids (grown now) were little they used to walk down that area and of course you teach your kids how to walk safely on the street and when they are very young you walk with them,” Stewart Warren said.

“The major problem is, aside from the fact that we thought it was unnecessary to make sidewalks to nowhere, they would have to take down four very large old shade trees. We have [already] lost a lot of trees in Pennington recently due to disease.”

Warren said one of the neighbors had two of the four trees that were taken down.

“She had contact with an expert at Rutgers (University) who said the weaker roots of the tree would be towards the street. The neighbor asked that the sidewalks be [built] over the weaker roots of the tree, which would give the tree the best likelihood of survival and the borough refused to do it.

“The reasons the borough gave were absolutely ridiculous. The main reason was it would be too dangerous to have sidewalks immediately next to the curb because if cars stop to let off and pick up passengers, a pedestrian could walk into the open car door.

“If you think about it, they have had sidewalks next to the curb in Trenton, New York City and more importantly in Pennington at Curlis Avenue near Toll Gate Grammar School,” he said.

Warren said he wants the public to be aware of what is happening on East Welling Avenue and prevent a similar situation to happen in the future.

“We felt that these large shade trees were important. The response from the borough was that every big tree we cut down, we will plant three little saplings,” he said. “In a 100 years it will be nice, but right now it is not. They make a big deal about Arbor Day, the fact they have the Shade Tree Commission, and that Pennington is recognized as a tree city from the Arbor Day Foundation. It is kind of contradictory.”

In a letter sent to the borough, resident Fred Scheetz, who is against the sidewalks and tree removal, noted “there are a few occasions when cars may be seen going faster than 25 miles per hour (mph) and generally, they are driven by teenagers.

“For the most part, I see little speeding on these two streets and have never worried about my safety or that of my children (grown now) or my six grandchildren (ages 6-24) that visit and ride bikes on the street or go to the stream to check it out at the curve in the road.

“I am completely against adding unnecessary sidewalks going a few feet to the township line to accommodate two families at most (one of which lives in the township) and taking down or destroying the beautiful trees to do so,” Scheetz wrote in the letter. “I as well as the majority of residents objected to making changes to East Welling as they have not observed a significant problem of speeding on this street.”

Todd MacDonald, who is one of several residents on East Welling Avenue in favor of the sidewalks, said the main reason he advocated for them was because of speeding and pedestrian safety.

“On that one stretch of East Welling, there was kind of a unanimous decision from residents that there was a lot of speeding on that end and there were two concerns that most residents had, speeding and pedestrian safety,” he said. “I have four children and we walk that way with our dogs often and that was the only stretch in the area that was not bridged with sidewalks.”

MacDonald stressed that no one advocated for the trees to come down.

“We were all disappointed, he said, adding they were nice trees. “The borough said that there was no way they could maintain the sidewalk and keep that one nice tree of the three or four that came down, he said. “I was not happy to see a tree come down, but I think it was worth the trade off to make that section safer for kids.”

The division among neighbors about the trees and the sidewalks “got really ugly at times,” MacDonald said.

“There was a concerted effort by some to take people down on our street and insult them and bully them or blame them for these things that had been going on. There are people on this street that no longer speak because of this,” he said, noting the borough had so many information sessions and people had chances to share their views.

Larissa Kelsey was another resident on East Welling Avenue in favor of the sidewalks. Kelsey said she thinks “the contractor did a great job with the sidewalks.”

“My kids are loving the sidewalk. It is a safe place for them to ride their bikes, walk and scooter. My neighbors and I, quite a few of us, have smaller children and our main concern was for safety and speeding,” she said. “East Welling is like a cut through for a lot of people. Neighbors with kids and without voiced their opinions about how there needed to be some safety measures for all pedestrians.”

Kelsey said she was worried about the tree removal.

“It was an unfortunate loss, but because (borough officials) are planting more trees to replace them and having the safety measure added to our street, I think that was a bonus,” she said. “Decades ago, we did not have traffic on our street like we do now. Our streets are crowded now, and people are on cellphones not looking at the road.”

Replacement of trees

Davy said they put a premium on the scope and magnitude of the trees they have in the borough.

“The four trees that were removed from that portion of the road will be replaced by upwards of 10 trees, if the space allows us to do that. It is not like we take down trees and that is it,” he said. “When we take down a tree for whatever purpose we actively replace those trees by a multiple factor.”

Davy said he personally met with some residents on East Welling Avenue about the project.

“Our engineer and public works director also met with residents onsite. I felt like we had a lot of engagement and discourse with residents,” Davy said. “Some were happy and some weren’t so happy, but the council is in a challenging spot to try and weigh the best interest of the community in making these decisions.

“Interestingly, two of the four trees we took down were significantly diseased and inside were rotting out,” he said.

Davy said the borough is still committed to planting new trees on East Welling Avenue to replace the ones that had been removed during the project.

He said the borough typically waits until the fall to do tree planting.

In Hopewell Township, members of the Township Committee will discuss sidewalks on the township’s portion of East Welling Avenue at a work session meeting on July 11, according to Hopewell Township Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning.

East Welling Avenue is on Hopewell’s list to be paved in 2022. The bids the township received includes options for no sidewalks or sidewalks on both sides of the street.

“We just need to decide which is the best solution,” Peters-Manning said. “We want to hear what the neighbors want.”

Story has been updated to include comments from Borough Council President Catherine Chandler 

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