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You got the wrong tree! Owner maintains his 25-year-old maple was a casualty of city's negligence

When Buffalo resident Sidney Wallach was notified that a tree on his company's property was going to be removed because of damage from last October's snowstorm, he wasn't upset. He figured he already had cut down the maple in question a few months before.

Then on Tuesday, Wallach stepped outside his office at Recreatives Inc. on Depot Street to find a 25-year-old tree he planted himself reduced to a stump.

Wallach maintains his tree is a casualty of city negligence and mistaken identity.

"There was no reason for it," he said. "They cut down the wrong tree."

In the months after the storm, teams of arborists determined that about 4,000 trees in the city had sustained permanent damage and needed to be removed. The city then sent letters to property owners informing them of their decision, officials said, and letting them know how to appeal the decision.

But some have complained that their concerns went unanswered.

Wallach, who founded Recreatives Inc., located near the Main Post Office on William Street, said his son had called city officials when the Wallachs received the notification letter to let them know the tree had been taken care of. But he said no one ever responded.

Then, without warning, a contractor came and removed the tree. Wallach said he didn't realize what had happened until one of his secretaries noticed the 30-foot maple on its side.

"The next thing you know, there's a tree lying on the ground," he said after surveying the damage. "I might as well go and get a martini."

Acting Public Works Commissioner Dan Kreuz said that he couldn't respond directly to Wallach's complaint that the wrong tree had been removed because his office had not been informed that that was the case. But he said the arborist's report on Wallach's tree indicated that it was severly damaged.

Delaware Council Member Michael LoCurto said Wallach's complaint isn't unusual. He has heard the same thing from a few dozen constituents.

"I got a ton of calls," he said. "Unfortunately, they [the city] moved fast to get all the trees down."

One person in his district, Cindy Matheis, said she and her husband didn't have a chance to appeal. They received notice that a 30-year-old tree on the front lawn of their Vernon Place home was slotted to be cut down days after the tree had already been removed.

"We didn't think the tree was damaged enough," she said. "Our tree meant a lot to us . . . now it [the front yard] is kind of bare."

Kreuz acknowledged it was "possible" some calls may have slipped through the cracks. He said it was difficult for his office to ensure that callers were properly directed when they reached out to the mayor's complaint hotline or their Council member instead of to his office.

But he said the city had worked hard to ensure that the hundreds of complaints it received were handled correctly.

He said his office passed all calls it received to a team of consultants who visited the property owner in person to explain why the tree was being removed.

"We try to talk them [property owners] through it," he said. "If we can't agree, we won't immediately remove the tree."

e-mail: aerickson@buffnews.com

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