Tree lovers in Port Washington started the workweek upset more than a dozen oaks were chopped down in front of a shopping center.

Frantic residents called town and state officials, the developers and a neighborhood beautification group, Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, on Monday morning demanding to know why their beloved trees were removed.

"This is a community where when trees are taken down, it strikes a real nerve," the group's executive director Mindy Germain said Tuesday.

Germain's organization was instrumental in enacting a 2008 Town of North Hempstead ordinance that requires an arborist to weigh in before any trees are removed and for residents to receive due warning.

But because the shopping center on Port Washington Boulevard, near Campus Drive, is on a state road, the town's ordinance didn't apply. The state Department of Transportation issued a permit giving permission for the trees to be removed. Spokeswoman Eileen Peters said the project is to "renovate and rehabilitate the area" and that an arborist and landscape architect reviewed the request.

"I know when it comes to tree removal, I know how sensitive people are," said developer Victor Musso, who is renovating and expanding the shopping center, anchored by a Wachovia Bank and a Rite Aid store. "Everything was done by the book, by the code."

Musso said the trees were taken down because they were in "bad shape" and that he plans to replace them.

Germain said it appears about 18 trees were taken down Monday, judging by the empty tree beds that remained Tuesday.

In March, trees were chopped down behind the shopping center. Musso said the town issued him a violation for that and he paid a fine.

As for the trees on Port Washington Boulevard, Germain said her group wants to see them replaced with Zelkova deciduous trees, which cost more than the Ginko Bilobas Musso has proposed. Musso said he is open to the group's suggestions.

The 50-year-old oak trees gave the area an "upstate feel," said resident Barbara Morrison, 53. "This is the worst time to cut down trees with birds nesting," she said. "It looks horrible. What does he want this place to look like? Flushing, Queens?"

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