Family’s request to cut down tree they call a ‘safety hazard’ denied

Outside the Marlboro Road home of Bill and Melissa Shields stands a tall red oak. It may be majestic, but the Shields say the tree, which stands on town property, creates a hazard. On Tuesday night they petitioned the town to take it down.

Melissa Shields told selectmen her concern is for the safety of her family. Last year her son entered kindergarten and Shields said the school bus repeatedly passed by their stop because the tree blocked the driver’s view. Shields said once the driver even forgot to drop her son off because he couldn’t see her waiting at the end of her driveway.

She also said the tree makes it difficult for people turning into or out of their driveway to see oncoming traffic.

The Shields gave selectmen letters from friends, neighbors, and Southborough department heads — including Police Chief Jane Moran, Regional School Business Director Cheryl Levesque, and Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan — supporting their plea.

The hearing was emotional, and at several points heated, as a supporter of the Shields family clashed with neighbors who spoke against taking the tree down. You can read more of the details in the Metrowest Daily News, but here’s what the decision came down to.

The Shields family argued the speed of traffic on Marlboro Road and other particulars make this situation uniquely hazardous. They said they would pay for the tree’s removal so there would be no cost to taxpayers. They also said they would plant a new tree in a safer location to replace the one they took down.

But the board ultimately voted 2-1 to preserve the tree. Selectmen Bill Boland and John Rooney agreed that removing a healthy tree would set a precedent and encourage others in town to make similar cases. “If your tree is taken down because of this concern, then we’re going to have many many more trees taken down,” Rooney said.

“I understand your concern with young kids,” Boland said. “If a bus driver continues to go by your house, there’s a problem with the bus driver. That’s not a problem with the tree, that’s a problem with a bus driver who’s not doing his job and needs to be disciplined.”

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf voted to remove the tree because she said the “excessive speeds” of traffic on Marlboro Road make the situation dangerous.

Instead of removing the tree, selectmen asked Galligan to install a sign warning drivers of the blind driveway. They also said they would instruct Moran to increase radar monitoring of the road.

Melissa Shields said they will fight the ruling. “I don’t want my children to get hurt.”

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Steve Lincoln
13 years ago

The town should set a precedent by allowing this tree to come down so long as it is done as the resident proposed. The resident is willing to pay for the removal of the tree and received the support of numerous elected and important officials and agencies in the town. The precedent that would be set would be one that would require other residents to take similar actions (providing evidence of the dangers posed by a tree, personally paying for the removal of a tree) to receive authority to remove such a tree. The town and its residents would actually benefit if the Board of Selectmen set a precedent by allowing this tree to come down in the manner proposed by the Shields Family.

13 years ago

I’m very disappointed after reading this and the MWDN article. This family took the time to research the issue and provide significant supporting documentation. It appears this is an example of “let’s wait until something terrible happens before allowing a change.” I also find it rude that one of the selectman argued the family moved to Southborough likely because it is Soutborough and not Somerville. I agree Southborough has a beautfiul, rural character, but when did that become more important than the safety of the town residents?

Pauline Ryan
13 years ago

I agree with both previous commenters. The “precedent” that would be set is that a tree can only be taken down if (1) the Chief of Police agrees, (2) the Public Works Superintendent agrees, (3) the residents agree to remove it at their own expense, (4) the residents agree to plant a new tree elsewhere on their property and (5) if the nature of the request involves the safety of children in the school system, someone from the school system and/or bus company agrees that the situation is hazardous. (In this case, Business Director Cheryl Levesque is the school system representative for dealing with school bus issues.) This is not a low bar.

I also respectfully disagree with Selectman Bill Boland indicating that this is a bus driver discipline issue. We live in a different part of the neighborhood as the Shields but the regular bus driver that picks up her kindergartener is the same one who has picked up my children for at least five years. He is responsible and dedicated and would not repeatedly forget to pick up or drop off a child. The fact that this has occurred multiple times leads me to believe that it is on the days that substitute bus drivers unfamiliar with the specifics of the route are driving that this occurs. This is clearly the reason that the School Business Director was brought in to situation; it is NOT a “bus driver discipline” issue.

Finally, to those who argue that people have successfully navigated the driveway for 20+ years — do you realize that trees GROW and that thus an obstruction may exist now that did not exist 5 years ago?

Harold Raez
13 years ago

Lets be accurate with the facts. The DPW Superintendant did not agree that the tree should come down. The Fire Chief did not agree that the tree should come down. The Tree Warden did not agree that the tree should come down. The electric company did not agree that the tree should come down. In fact, the only public official that agreed that the tree should come down was the police chief.

There are hundreds of trees in this town that meet the same standard. Should we take them all down if it doesn’t cost the town anything, a new sapling is planted, and the police chief agrees? Hey, they decided to purchase a house on Marlboro Road knowing full well that was a high volume, high speed roadway. Taking down a tree will not slow the traffic and stand with your child at the bus stop like the rest of us do.

13 years ago
Reply to  Harold Raez

Fellow neighbors,

Harold Raez’s post is right on the money.

I too was upset after reading the blog and newspaper comments and did not understand why the tree should come down.

Out of curiosity, I drive to 72 Marlboro Rd to look for myself. I encourage everyone who reads this blog to take the time to drive by this location and look at the tree. Now after seeing the tree for myself, I believe this tree is like thousands of other trees in Southborough and it should not come down.

The homeowner chose to buy a home on a busy street. If the cars are speeding, the police chief should direct the police to catch the speeding cars.

Just my 2 cents.

Pauline Ryan
13 years ago

She does stand with her child at the bus stop. And the bus goes by because she cannot be seen.

Mike O'Connor
13 years ago

If a large tree is abutting the entrace of any homeowner’s driveway and obstructing their view of cars when they are trying to leave their house, it constitutes a serious safety issue for the family as well as passing motorists.

The safety issue is the only one that should matter, and it seems like the chief of police and the selectwoman understood that. Seems to me we need more women in office around here.

We should set a precedent here in Southborough, that the safety of our neighbors is more important than some tree that blocks a driveway.

13 years ago

Um… Hey, Harold Raez, when was this road deemed a “high speed roadway”? Isn’t Saint Mark’s School located about 100 yards from the Shieds’ home?… A SCHOOL ZONE. Please go take a nap. Your rant above is comical.
Isn’t the precedent being set here public safety? The Shields have gone above and beyond and beyond and beyond to offer solutions at THEIR expense to remedy this situation.
Here’s hoping town management will step in and do the right thing and allow this tree to be taken down and that no piping plovers nest in Harold’s yard preventing him from mowing his grass….

Melissa Shields
13 years ago

The tree located on the north side of our driveway is a hazard and serious safety concern. We have documented support stating such from police records, Chief of Police, Public Schools, DPW and residents.

~ Police records show that during the past year, the average speeding ticket on Marlboro Road is 46.7 mph in a posted 30 mph zone. Additional police records state that there have been 1,580 citations issued on Marlboro Road during a recent 6-year period.

~ Police Chief Jane Moran personally observed an instance when the school bus missed our stop. In her letter dated July 22, 2010, she states, “The driver was unable to view either the student or the parents standing with the child until after it passed. It then slowed immediately, approximately 75’ from the original pick up zone, and the parents ran across the lawn, on to their neighbors’ property to put the student on the bus”. The Police Chief also states, “The chances of improved safety to both the residents and the motoring public passing 72 Marlboro Rd, would be greatly increased with the removal of this obstacle”.

~ In a letter dated July 7, 2010, Cheryl Levesque of the Northborough-Southborough Public Schools supports our request for the tree removal and states, “The location of the tree on the property does limit vision to the driver and the stop has been missed on a number of occasions. In addition, the bus company noted the volume and speed of traffic on that particular street creates additional safety concerns”.

~ In an email dated, June 24, 2010, DPW Director Karen Galligan states, “the tree is causing issues at the property, specifically it is blocking the view of pedestrians at the property from approaching traffic”. Karen goes on to write, “The DPW will not block the removal of the tree.” In that same email she states, “If the decision is overturned we would favor removing the tree before school starts to avoid these issues next school year”.

~ Neighbors and residents provided individual letters of support with personal stories of the dangers they face as they exit our driveway. We continue to receive emails, letters and phone calls of support. Thank you all!

Numerous bus drivers have passed our stop in the mornings and afternoons because we can’t be seen due to the positioning of the tree. I stand outside with my son in the morning and wait at the stop for him in the afternoon. I speak to the bus driver every day. This is not a bus driver problem. This is a safety issue regarding the lack of visibility of pedestrians and cars due to the positioning of this tree. Given the location of the tree, we are required by law to seek proper approval for the removal of this tree. We fear for our own safety and the safety of others on a daily basis.

We are offering to pay for the removal of the tree ourselves so that tax dollars are not used to take the tree down. Our situation is unique: (1) we will not burden taxpayers, (2) we will plant a new tree in a safer location on our property, (3) we have documented support of the hazards this tree presents from numerous residents and town officials and (4) the slope and curvature of Rt. 85 immediately before our home and the speed at which drivers travel on Rt. 85 magnify the danger that the tree presents. The danger increases each year as the tree grows.

We are thankful that the Chair of the Board of Selectmen, Bonnie Phaneuf, listened to us and other members of our town and understood the documentation presented relating to this safety hazard.

13 years ago

As a result of the Board of Selectmen’s decision, the town now faces liability issues, multiple school bus drivers will be unnecessarily disciplined, and the Shields family and motorists will continue to confront a safety hazard. This is an opportunity for the town to set the proper precedent. Important members, elected officials, public boards and residents of the town provided documentation and/or support. What additional evidence is needed? An accident report?

Kelly Roney
13 years ago

Here’s another look at the tree in question.

13 years ago

I really don’t see what’s so important about this one particular tree… not like there aren’t literally hundreds lining the road. Personally, I think the bush probably blocks more view than the tree, but I’m not the one trying to go in and out of the driveway. And it’s not my child standing in the front yard.

Ironically, the town won’t let them take that oak tree down, but massacred the branches on my HUGE oak tree a few years ago because they were afraid that the limbs were too low for traffic on my street. (Probably more afraid of a lalwsuit than the tree in that case). Too bad the truck exclusion didn’t exist back then, it may have saved it, because now its got bugs where the town cut it. Let the tree come down, chop it up for firewood and plant a smaller tree before someone gets hurt! It’s a TREE folks, we’ve got more than enough!

Elizabeth Bard
13 years ago

I can’t believe that safety is ignored, trees do grow and cause safety issues. The thought of HUMAN safety being ignored is unbelievable.

Bill Shields
13 years ago

This tree continues to pose a safety hazard for our guests, passing motorists and our family multiple times each day. We are now educating ourselves on the process of appealing the BOS decision and gathering new information, which includes past precedents and state law. We created the website below as a means to document the evidence that we’ve obtained that supports the removal of this tree:

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