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Boston backs down on plan to remove Melnea Cass trees

Yvonne Lalyre (not shown) founded Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard in 2011 and has spearheaded a campaign to tie ribbons around trees slated to be cut down.
Yvonne Lalyre (not shown) founded Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard in 2011 and has spearheaded a campaign to tie ribbons around trees slated to be cut down.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston officials appeared to back down Friday from a controversial plan to cut down about a quarter of the mature trees lining Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury, after pushback from the state attorney general’s office and activists who denounced the move as environmental racism.

The city is listening to neighborhood residents and will not cut down the trees before reconsidering the potential effects on the community, a city spokeswoman said Friday evening, one day after a bureau chief in the AG’s office sent the city a three-page letter outlining the environmental and health benefits of trees in urban spaces.

The spokeswoman said in a statement that the city’s newly appointed chief of equity, Karilyn Crockett, and staff from the transportation, parks, and other departments “have been revisiting the proposal over the last several weeks with a concerted focus on equity impacts to ensure any future proposal maximizes benefit for the community and meets the equitable standard to which we hold ourselves.

“That work will continue before we move forward with any next steps,” she said.

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David Meshoulam, executive director of the environmental group Speak for the Trees, said Friday night that the city’s statement was “very reassuring.”

“It seems like a good first step,” said Meshoulam, whose organization works with Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard, the community group leading the fight to preserve the trees. “It seems like they’ve listened to our petition and our concerns and are taking them very seriously, and I’m deeply appreciative of that.”

But he added, “Actions will speak louder than words. We’ll have to see what those next steps are.”

In a Thursday letter, Melissa Hoffer, chief of the energy and environment bureau of the attorney general’s office, asked Boston’s parks and recreation commission to “reconsider how the new plan impacts the remarkable grove of mature shade trees that line the Boulevard.”

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Hoffer pointed out in her letter to Commissioner Ryan Wood that Crockett, the city’s chief of equity, had written in her book “People Before Highways” about the development of Melnea Cass after the defeat in the 1970s of a state plan to put a highway through Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

“Because of the ’People Before Highways’ movement, Melnea Cass Boulevard — and its trees — stand as a testament to the power of a community coming together to preserve public health,” Hoffer wrote. “It is my sincere hope that they continue as such for generations to come.”

Many Roxbury residents have denounced the city’s plan to remove more than 100 oaks, lindens, maples, and other trees, which followed an even more controversial proposal that would have added more lanes to the boulevard’s existing four.

The city previously said it had to remove the trees as part of a redesign that seeks to create a “more pedestrian-friendly” boulevard, one safer to cross and easier to navigate by bicycle, with slower traffic and more flood protections.

The removal of trees was necessary “to meet all priorities,” a city spokeswoman said last month.


David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this story.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.