Oakland trees' beauty is in eye of beholder
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There was once a house beside the Supertzis' place on Oakland Avenue.
The University of Pittsburgh bought it years ago and knocked it down, replacing it with a parklet in which maple trees soared. For the past eight years, the lot has been a walk-through for the students who live all around.
It looks harmless, even charming, but that splash of green in the Pitt student ghetto has been wreaking havoc on the Supertzis' 150-year-old, three-story house for years. The parklet slopes toward the house and seems all but designed to keep the family's basement damp and gutters clogged.
Tony Supertzi, 58 -- who grew up in the house -- and his wife, Francine, showed me around Tuesday morning. They live in Plum now, but their grandson stayed on the third floor this past summer.
Mr. Supertzi is a general contractor who has been fixing up the house with an eye toward the couple moving back to their childhood neighborhood.
Mrs. Supertzi might even open a barber shop if she can get the city's OK.
But those maples have been in attack mode.
The trunks are about five feet from the Supertzis' wire fence and growing closer, and the roots have spread underneath their property, homing in on water and sewer pipes.
"Maples grow the fastest because they go for water,'' Mr. Supertzi said.
He cut down some sumacs in the park himself and sent Pitt a bill that was never paid. But the maples, which were supposed to be dwarfs, now soar higher than the house. They might be 65 feet tall. Their leaves get in the roof gutters, something neither his father nor grandfather ever had to confront as homeowners.
He showed me how a leaf-clogged downspout damaged the walls of the front parlor after it froze and burst, and how 10 gallons of waterproofing system he applied still couldn't stop the sandstone foundation from leaking.
The wall he built at the property line behind his house hasn't been able to stop the water damage either.
I don't run into a lot of people who hate trees.
Bad drivers, klutzy skiers and injured lumberjacks may have some bad things to say about them, but there can't be many people who have more reason to dis maples than the Supertzis.
"I'm going to poison them,'' Mrs. Supertzi told me as we stood in the parklet. "I'm going to jail, just so you know.''
That won't be necessary, because a funny thing happened when I called Pitt.
Though the Supertzis say they'd been trying and failing to get Pitt to take the trees down for years, the day I went to the house turned out to be the day a Pitt official said the university would cut the trees down.
Vice chancellor G. Reynolds Clark made that commitment Tuesday afternoon, and by the next morning he promised that the large trees, which "probably never should have been planted,'' would be removed in the next couple of weeks and replaced with small ornamental trees and shrubbery.
The parklet also would be regraded, he said, which should resolve all the drainage issues that concern the Supertzis.
It took more time than it should have, but that's a neighborly resolution. Mrs. Supertzi was pleased when I gave her the news, which evidently came after the attorney and structural engineer the couple hired spoke with Pitt officials. That this also came swiftly after media scrutiny may just be a coincidence -- but Mrs. Supertzi doesn't think so.
There aren't too many properties on this block of Oakland Avenue that don't belong to Pitt. Of the 20 properties between 231 and 265 Oakland Ave., all but four belong to the university.
Mr. Supertzi said Pitt offered his father $38,000 for the house back in the late '90s, but he'll put all that and more into the house between the cost of the foundation and restoration.
I asked what he'd want for the house now, and he said, "Give me a million dollars.''
He shouldn't hold his breath.
This is Pitt we're talking about, not UPMC.
First Published September 27, 2012 12:00 am