Old planter boxes on Frankford Avenue removed

A plan to plant: Last week, the Mayfair Business Improvement District teamed up with City Councilman Bobby Henon, a crew of operating engineer trainees and two local waste businesses to remove old planter boxes in Mayfair, which will soon be replaced with more-sustainable ones. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

Something that seemed like a good idea 15 years ago was really a death sentence for some Mayfair trees.

Maples and oaks never stood a chance inside the 69 masonry planter boxes installed along Frankford Avenue by the old Mayfair Community Development Corporation.

The original intent was to line the neighborhood shopping district with environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing greenery. The CDC chose hollowed-out, four-foot concrete cubes for the jobs. Sadly, any arborist will tell you that you can’t bury a tree trunk in a yard of soil and expect the plant to survive. Further, tree root systems generally need an area at least double the diameter of the tree crown.

In time, most of the Frankford Avenue trees withered and died.

Last week, one of the old CDC’s successors, the Mayfair Business Improvement District, teamed with City Councilman Bobby Henon, a crew of operating engineer trainees and two local waste businesses to remove the old planter boxes, which will soon be replaced with more-sustainable ones.

WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

“They were dubbed ‘tree coffins’ because nothing stayed alive inside of them,” Henon said as Local 542 members used a heavy forklift to load the planters onto a flatbed truck.

Waste Management and Revolution Recovery, both based in Tacony, will repurpose the old planters, which lined the avenue from Harbison to Cottman avenues. Many of the boxes have cracked and will be crushed into aggregate stone, according to Avi Golen, a Revolution Recovery co-founder. The aggregate may be reused as base layer for new roads, driveways and sidewalks. It may also be used as a bed for laying drainage pipes.

Some of the intact planters may end up outside the company’s building products recycling yard at 7333 Milnor St., Golen said.

Clayton Setzler, an instructor with the Local 542 training program, said that the planters each weighed more than 2,500 pounds, including the soil. The job offered his apprentices a great chance to learn in a practical setting.

“It’s like a learning job,” he said. “We try to get these guys out into real life as much as we can. And secondly, we’re helping the city. We’re making life better for people who live around here.”

The CDC has a reconstituted board and staff from 15 years ago. In 2015, the CDC led the effort to create Mayfair BID, along with the Mayfair Business Association and Henon’s council office. The BID is funded by assessments of businesses within the Frankford Avenue commercial district. It promotes the district through cleaning, public safety, marketing and capital improvement programs.

According to Executive Director Sam Siegel, the planters project grew from a public survey in which the BID asked what type of improvements local folks wanted to see.

“(The planters) were an eyesore. They were acting as giant trash bins,” Siegel said. “We’re replacing them with new ones that are going to be better maintained and more attractive.”

The new planters will be round and resemble terra cotta pots. Instead of trees, they will be planted with flowers, vines and shrubs that attract butterflies. The plantings will tie into the community’s effort to replenish the Monarch butterfly population in the area.

“They will be more durable over time and easier to keep clean,” Siegel said.

Businesses and residents will also soon see the installation of 150 seasonal banners on utility poles.

“This is the largest beautification project Mayfair has seen in many years and it’s because of the establishment of the Mayfair BID,” Henon said. “(Businesses) are going to see the results of their involvement with the BID.” ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.