A group of Northeast Philadelphia residents have approved a project that has already led to clear-cutting and felling of forests along the border of a private golf course in their neighborhood – and is expected to result in the removal of 43 other large trees elsewhere on the property.
While the scheme also calls for the planting of nearly 600 replacement trees, some residents are unhappy with the transformation of what had been an attractive buffer, windbreak and noise barrier for homes on Chesterfield Road into a commanding view on the rough ground, fallen branches and trees. trunks lying side by side.
But in a 62-21 vote on March 3, the West Torresdale/Morrell Park Civic Association approved a plan by the Union League Golf Club in Torresdale to develop a golf learning center and nine-hole, par-3 course designed for family use.
The $1.9 million project will then be reviewed by the zoning board. Like a registered community organizationthe association may consider certain applications presented to the board, but RCO votes are not legally binding.
“A lot of people wanted to know why the trees were gone and wanted to know what was going to be done about it,” association president Heather Stanton said.
More than 100 people attended the association meeting in Christ the King School in Morel Park. The presentation of the project by engineers, architects and club officials focused largely on the trees and drew heated questions from some in the audience and applause from others.
“The neighborhood voted, but the trees were already cut down,” said Ken Law, the association’s treasurer.
“After the golf course started cutting trees, I called 311 [Philadelphia’s non-emergency service number], and the operator told me that the inspectors would respond in 15 days. But a lot of trees had fallen by then,” he said.
“I understand the rights of private landowners, but when you’re talking about cutting down acres of trees and neighbors have questions, there should be better channels of communication with the city,” Law said.
“This forest was there for 100 years.”
Concern for tree canopy health in the city and other Philadelphia-area communities is growing. Trees along streets, in parks and on private property are damaged or destroyed by extreme weather, public works, development projects and invasive pests such as emerald ash borer and the dappled lantern. Recognition of the environmental and human health benefits of trees – and the association between wealthier neighborhoods and denser canopies – is also increasing.
But in the past two months, the clear-cutting of trees in the area has become a public issue. A chunk of wood disappeared along Kresson Road in Cherry Hill to make way for the construction of 16 upscale single-family homes, and restoration work at the Cobbs Creek golf course in West Philadelphia eliminated hundreds of trees.
The Torresdale Club, a local landmark for over a century, occupies 175 rolling acres along Grant Avenue. The number of trees cut so far is unclear, although local residents put the number at more than 100.
“We removed a lot of trees that [may have] looked beautiful from the outside, but the inside was extremely rotten or diseased,” Jeff McFadden, CEO of Philadelphia Union League, told the audience at the March 3 meeting. The Union League purchased Torresdale in 2014 and owns golf clubs in Lafayette Hill and Cape May County.
The Torresdale club opened its doors in 1921 and has an 18-hole course designed by the famous Donald Ross. It has 350 members and more than 100 people, many of whom live in the neighborhood and work there. And the club regularly picks up trash along Grant Avenue, cleans up the part of Byberry Creek within its borders.
“We’ve been investing in Torresdale for seven years and we’re good stewards of the environment,” McFadden said.
“Some of the trees we felled were [in danger of falling]. They were really terrible trees,” he said.
“We also removed 150 tires, two washing machines, mannequins, hypodermic needles and a car. We have made a huge improvement, in my opinion. We plant beautiful deciduous trees – not saplings, but 10-15 year old trees, and also conifers.
“It will end up framing the property in an absolutely beautiful way,” McFadden said.
The presentation appeared to be compelling to some at the meeting, association officials said.
“When they said they were going to replace the trees, it made me feel better about the whole situation,” Law said.
“I hopefully the neighbors directly affected by the trees that have been felled will see a quick result” from the replanting, Stanton said.