Selectmen promise to help frustrated residents raising concerns about tree removals and runoff

Above: A “200 year old” oak tree on Deerfoot Road is tied into complaints residents have made about runoff problems, tree removals, and frustrations about feeling they were getting the runaround from officials all claiming lack of jurisdiction. One resident told officials that what used to be the prettiest road in town is now “ruined”. This month, they asked selectmen for help. (2014 image from Bing maps)

When two residents addressed boards this month, they made clear they were representing their neighborhood and looking out for the whole Town. Deerfoot Road residents asked for help with specific runoff issues in their neighborhood. And they asked for clarity on policies to avoid unnecessary tree removals in other residents’ neighborhoods.

Marguerite Landry stated, it is too late for tree removal policy changes to help her own neighborhood. She said that all the old trees on the public way were already taken down. She told the Planning Board that the south section of Deerfoot Road used to be the prettiest road she knew in town. That changed with the removal of what she characterized as healthy, large old trees that couldn’t be replaced in her lifetime and the knocking down of stone walls only partially rebuilt or replaced with modern “plumb” walls:

It was rural, it had the stone walls, it had trees, it was great. It is now the ugliest road in Southborough. All the walls are down. Every single tree that could be taken down that was in the roadway was taken down.

But she hoped clarification could prepare residents in other neighborhoods that have future developments. She said that all but one of the trees were removed without notice to neighbors. That was something she hoped could be changed for future tree takings in town.

Landry attended Planning and Selectmen meetings January 6th and 7th with neighbor Denise Eddy. They weren’t on the agendas, but took advantage of ability to make public comments.

Eddy’s focus was slightly different from Landry’s. Speaking for the neighborhood, she said their main concern was erosion and water runoff from the new development at the south end of Deerfoot Road.  She reminded boards that the neighborhood had publicly advocated for Brendon Properties’s plan to purchase and develop the land. Now they are disgruntled by issues it appears to have caused.

Eddy reported that clearing trees for new homes led to excessive runoff onto the road and other properties. Neighbors were worried that if the DPW finishes removing the final big tree trunk, it will worsen the problem in that section. (She explained that the tree, pictured above, had branches removed. But it was too large for the original crane to remove.) She also detailed that land at 126A had been backfilled to an old stone wall which is not a retention wall. As a result, silt has been running through the wall onto the road and her property.

Selectmen agreed to get involved. Chair Brian Shea would try to facilitate helping residents in the short term. He would seek to bring relevant parties together to get answers. He would report back to the board and neighborhood. In the longer term, the board indicated that it would like the topic to come back on a future agenda. That included getting clarification on the tree removal policy.

(At the January 21st BOS meeting, Shea gave a brief update. He was scheduling a meeting with the DPW Superintendent and Conservation agent, to get more up to speed. He was also waiting a legal opinion on the authority of the DPW in removing damaged/diseased trees. He would then follow up with residents.)

Before going to selectmen, Deerfoot Road residents spent time writing and speaking to multiple boards and Departments. They failed to get satisfaction and kept hearing the refrain, “it’s not our jurisdiction.” When they heard that from the Planning Board earlier this month, they noted that it was what they had also heard from the Conservation Commission and Building Department.

At the January 6th meeting, Planning Chair Don Morris clarified that their issues were mainly with the Department of Public Works. As the DPW’s boss, selectmen are the ones with jurisdiction over them. 

Selectman Stam Stivers who as in attendance was asked to opine. He said he would like to find out more about jurisdiction issues, but agreed that DPW issues should come to selectmen. He was also interested in getting Town Counsel advice on the tree laws given what he saw as inconsistencies with state laws.

Eddy countered that since the runoff was from new development construction, she thought that would be under Planning’s authority. Morris explained that they didn’t since the runoff was from an ANR (Approval Not Required permit) lot.*  Morris advised that neighbors should focus on the fact that runoff from a private property was causing a problem on a public roadway. Since selectmen are in charge of the Town’s public ways, it is up to them to direct a private owner to stop or reduce the runoff.

Eddy and Landry indicated that they didn’t want the Town to force the new homeowner to fix the problem, since he had just recently purchased the property and is also distressed about the runoff. They described ruts in his yard caused by the water. (It appeared that they wanted the Town to direct the developer to make the fix.) Morris countered that those are the rules.

As for the tree removal, Morris lamented that trees are being removed all over Town. He referred to a dozen trees taken down along Sears Road about two years ago. When he reached out to selectmen and the DPW, he was told that the utility company had the right to prune or remove trees. The DPW can also take trees, he said, when the trees are seen as damaged or stressed. He noted that it can happen even when 50% (or 90%) of the tree seems to be in good condition. He’s heard from residents ballistic over seemingly healthy trees removed. But they swallow it instead of going to the Board of Selectmen.

Planning member Andrew Mill counseled Landry to push the DPW to fix stone walls and prioritize their area for new trees. Landry said the trees couldn’t be replaced in her lifetime. But Mills urged not to give up.

Planning member Meme Lutrell advocated that Planning should do more. As the sponsors of the Article passed last year for Tree City USA, the board should advocate for hearings when the Town removes shade trees. She recalled that Town Counsel had opined that if a shade tree needed to be cleared from a road after a storm there wouldn’t be time for a hearing. But the Deerfoot Road tree removal started 8 months after an arborist’s report. She wanted a letter sent to selectmen asking for clarification on when hearings should be held. The board agreed.

The Deerfoot Road neighbors followed up on Morris’ advice by speaking up at the following Board of Selectmen meeting. Their public comment covered much of the same ground. But they also dug more into detail about one aspect of the complaint. The most recent tree work didn’t jive with what they had been told. Eddy said that neighbors were told that the large tree, with roots embedded in the stone wall, needed to come down in order for a drainage basin to be installed. But that basin was installed prior to the work removing tree branches. And while they had been told the tree was diseased, they were skeptical. Even with branches removed it seemed to be in good condition.

Eddy also reiterated that DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan confirmed that the catch basin was incorrectly installed too high. She said they were told that it wouldn’t be fixed until new paving is done after all the development construction is complete. Upon questioning, Eddy confirmed that they had contacted the developer. She said that he doesn’t think there is a problem.

Selectman Dan Kolenda reminded that the discussion wasn’t on the agenda. That limited the amount of “back and forth” they could have on the topic that night. The board agreed that Shea would try to facilitate getting answers/resolution for residents. Town Administrator Mark Purple would ask Town Counsel for clarification on his opinion about tree laws. And the board would like to see the item on a future agenda for deeper discussion.

*The parcel was split into multiple lots that each had enough frontage on a public way to not require a special permit like a subdivision. It was one of the reasons cited by the Conservation Commission for their lack of jurisdiction on the issue.

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3 years ago

How about fixing Lover’s Lane? Huge, old trees are encroaching into the right-of-way. Sections of the road are wide enough for only one vehicle to pass in winter. The road surface looks like it was used for bombing target practice runs during World War II. Other town roads in far better condition have been rebuilt. Why not this one?

Matthew Brownell
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard


Spot on, and good post.

Not sure why basic maintenance of Lover’s Lane has been neglected in recent years by the DPW and Town of Southborough, but I’ve had enough of it, and this will be escalated.

From my shoes, it seems like there are few too many Town Departments getting paid for not doing their job.

3 years ago

Every town resident should pay attention, be on alert and read the following two articles explaining what has happened on Lovers Lane. Between Lisa Dunderdale’s very good YouTube tape showing crazy runoff on Deerfoot and the articles linked below, where did our Town’s Boards, Committees, and Building Inspector fail ? Where did the process fail ? Where is the accountability? How did this happen? Where in the process are the safeguards for any citizens against any greedy developers who cause problems? Take a look at these articles and those named in the articles:
“Southborough Couple have a $1m Money Pit”
“Southborough Home Battle Continues”

Would be more concerned with the alleged fraud that has happened on Lovers Lane and the Building Inspector turnover, why is that, right? The following articles from Metro West Daily News mention engineers that have lost their licenses(!?) and the Town of Southborough’s Building Inspector falling down on the job and leaving the post, apparently. Those named in these articles who lost licenses is a partial start. This needs sunshine and to be professionally and responsibly addressed. Take a look at Lisa D’s video showing the run off into Deerfoot road.
Thank you Beth for shedding light on these matters.

3 years ago

Leave it just the way it is for the residents and the neighborhood. No one wants this to turn into a speedway, it is just fine as a back country roadway, exactly what it is. It’s obvious you don’t live in the neighborhood and could care less about protecting it and the families and children who live in it. Your comment plays right into the very controversial developer and project, Park Central. Flagg Road and area roadways are not the driveway for this controversial, ill-conceived, unsafe project. Another tricky illusion to get taxpayers to pave the way for developer to profit and shove this piece of danger down residents’ roadways. No taxpayer should be paying or facilitating this project. Just another trick to get the taxpayer to pay for a developer’s infrastructure so he can increase his return on investment off the taxpayer’s back. Like the Nike ad, just say no. Not going to the expense. Plenty of other higher priorities in Town.

Matthew Brownell
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom

“Tom” . . .

I’m certainly no fan of the Park Central development, and have fought against it for most of the 20 years I’ve lived in Southborough – primarily for safety reasons.

But the unshakable, demonstrable facts about Lover’s Lane are clear:

1) DEAD TREES. There are more than a half dozen VERY Large , DEAD 70ft -85 ft tall oak trees along Lover’s Lane belonging to the Town of Southborough. The trees have been dead since the 2017 Summer drought, and infestations of winter moths.

That is 3+ years of time , and neither the Town of Southborough DPW, nor the utility companies have taken a single step to conduct the basic maintenance and removal of the dead trees , which present a high risk of injuring or killing those who pass by below on Lovers Lane.

Four (4!) times over the past 18 months , large, dead oak limbs from these trees have
fallen onto Lovers Lane [ You can see some of the fallen dead limbs for yourself – directly across from the entrance to Jacobs Lane ]

I took pictures of each dead tree on Lover’s Lane last October, and will be sending these to the Selectmen, Town Manager Mark Purple , and DPW’s Karen Galligan.
I also discussed dangers posed by these trees with Selectman Sam Stivers last Summer.

My expectation is that the Town will schedule removal of the dead trees within the next 60 -90 days. Failure to perform this fundamental maintenance is nothing more than reckless negligence.

2) Lack of Lover’s Lane maintenance. Every 4-5 years , the DPW would spread a gravel & tar mixture onto the surface of Lover”s Lane – which served as an inexpensive way of reducing potholes and preventing road surface erosion. it worked just fine for the purposes of a low-volume road.

Now, as the Town has not applied the gravel/tar for many years, Lover’s Lane resembles the surface of the moon.

3) Clearing the street drainage grates. Again, the DPW has been AWOL for several years on this. And when the drainage grates are clogged, the water simply overflows onto the road surface, freezes and unfreezes, creating a bobsled run for vehicles, and
the continual creation of more potholes .

4). Regular tree-trimming of limbs from encroaching on power lines.. This is simple block & tackle. And it’s not getting done … at least, not on Lover’s Lane.

Certainly , if the Town can find the taxpayer largesse for Athletic field catch basins and six-figure athletic field night lighting, I think we can all agree that the most basic and fundamental road maintenance described above takes priority in ANY community.

Please and Thank You –

Matt Brownell
8 Jacobs Lane

3 years ago

BTW, asking Town Counsel to opine on trees and tree removals is like asking the Fox to guard the Hen House. This Town Counsel is in court (on too many cases to count) sitting next to the Park Central (Flagg Road) developers attorneys. The developer is actually benefitting from two attorneys fighting for this development. One is paid for by the Town. Town counsel fights the standing of the residents / abutters on the taxpayers dime (and lost), but continues to sit next to and fight with the developer against the residents. Every resident should check out who this Town Counsel is sitting next to and joining in court. This link is to public information on one of the developer’s attorneys, a public Board of Bar Overseers (attorneys bar) admonishment:

Lisa D
3 years ago

It’s my understanding, as part of the lot planning process and engineering, builders need to assure storm water remains on the lot. Take a look at this video showing the run off into Deerfoot road.
It’s unfortunate that our new neighbors have to take the responsibility for addressing the storm water management on a poorly planned and constructed lot. Whose checking the standards once the property is complete? If you’re in the market to buy a house be sure to stop by when it’s raining, you may find pools or rivers in places other than the road. Beth, thank you for raising awareness for all residents.

trench warfare?
3 years ago

How about the DPW fixing the sinkhole/trench at the corner of Northborough Road and Chestnut Hill Road? It’s been that way for several MONTHS! Apparently someone dug a ditch or trench across Northborough Road when the new homes on Chestnut Hill Rd. were being built – and never properly filled it.

I’ve narrowly avoided a few head-on collisions on that curve as motorists try to dodge the
drop out and swerve into the opposite traffic lane.

Deerfoot resident
3 years ago

Thanks, Beth, for this article about Deerfoot. If the experiences of this neighborhood can’t save their street, at least it can get residents and the Board of Selectmen paying attention to the carte blanche DPW has had to cut down trees and demolish stone walls.

All so “scenic roads” can become developer-friendly speedways.

If the town departments aren’t protecting the residents’ interests, then residents have to speak out in public before it’s too late!

Michael Weishan
3 years ago

Had we had support of the BOS to recommend acquiring this 61A parcel at town meeting, this whole issue might have been avoided, but the BOS yet again failed to act. Those interested may want to refer to this link: I’d add as well that these same residents repeatedly supported the developer over the various town entities working to save this property at the time, so it does seem to be no small poetic justice that they are now unhappy with the damage they themselves have wrought.

Joe Landry
3 years ago

I live on Deerfoot Road Extension—if you think you have problems. I lived in Wilmington and Andover before moving to Southborough. So I’m accustomed to living in towns where development and residential interests compete, driven by primitive territorial instinct, shall we say. When Peter Doud’s home and property went on the market, we had hoped that it would be purchased as a fine historic residence. Sadly, after years on the market, no buyer came forward. As Michael Weishan has noted, “various Town entities” then proposed that the Town of Southborough buy the property for a variety of uses. These included a low-cost housing development; soccer fields, no doubt with with attendant klieg lights and parking lots; and, weaving throughout, nature trails! It was proposed that the Town rebuild the antique home, preserving the facade, and reconstruct the barn—for veteran’s apartments. It seemed like a kind of town-entity property-feeding-frenzy, if I’m recalling all of this correctly. These various proposals seemed to disregarded the location across Route 9, and the need to double the width of the dead-end road and its intersection with Route 9. These proposals were simply unrealistic. Finally the Town chose not to buy the property, and proceed with the proposals, because of the cost. I doubt that the complaints of the neighborhood had very much to do with this decision. I had hoped that the Town and the Historical Society might have negotiated with the developer to renovate the antique home and barn as a keynote residence offered for sale as part of the developers plan. However, such renovation would probably be much more expensive than building new from the ground up, and possibly not financially viable for the developer. We opposed what the Town Entities were proposing because it would have practically erased our neighborhood. There is nothing wrong with wanting to preserve one’s neighborhood. A beautiful antique home and some trees have been lost; but when the dust finally settles, and the upheaval of the construction is over, Deerfoot Road Extension will be a fine small neighborhood again, with beautiful new homes. We already have some wonderful new neighbors.

Deerfoot resident
3 years ago

The issue on Deerfoot Road is with the DPW.

3 years ago

The proof is in the pudding. The irresponsible result. See this important tape:

The bucolic charm of our town is being destroyed by greed and recklessness. Stone walls are part of Southborough’s historic heritage and are protected. And we are a designated “Tree City.” Why is DPW (or others?) wrecking our history and charming country roads with its surprise, unannounced destructing changes.

Agree with Ms. Landry and thank her for bringing this to the attention of the BOS. Deerfoot used to be one of the prettiest streets in town. Now it is the ugliest, with the removal of precious old growth trees and historic stone walls that all add to the charm of our town.

To “Deerfoot Resident,” the issue on Deerfoot is not just the DPW. It is the developers who wrecked Deerfoot and those in local government who have allowed this to happen with no good oversight and care as to the actual outcome. BOS, DPW, Conservation (and Historical) should look at the important YouTube tape, showing that the proof is in the outcome! There is plenty of blame and lack of foresight and lack of accountability to go around. Look at this tape from “Lisa D” above.

“Lisa D. .
It’s my understanding, as part of the lot planning process and engineering, builders need to assure storm water remains on the lot. Take a look at this video showing the run off into Deerfoot road.

It’s unfortunate that our new neighbors have to take the responsibility for addressing the storm water management on a poorly planned and constructed lot. Whose checking the standards once the property is complete? If you’re in the market to buy a house be sure to stop by when it’s raining, you may find pools or rivers in places other than the road. Beth, thank you for raising awareness for all residents.”

3 years ago

To BOS, planning board, conservation commission:
As well as all citizens, in addition to the linked tape above:
Take a look at the additional YouTube tapes by Lisa D. How can there be no oversight of these conditions? And what went wrong in the approval process to allow this to be the result? The stone walls are an important part of our town’s heritage. The runoff is ridiculous. How is this restored? How is this prevented? Thank you Lisa D and Beth for calling attention to this matter.

Lisa D
3 years ago

Great comments from all! The issues on Deerfoot could happen in your neighborhood too. We know most of the damage has been done, historic walls demolished, trees removed, run off streaming down the road, not to mention all that the developer gets away with. They too have carte blanche similar to DPW so we need better oversight of construction sites and what happens in the neighborhoods.

It all starts with residents speaking out as Deerfoot Resident mentioned in a post above; helping each other out and raising awareness of issues. We hope what happened on Deerfoot can be prevented for other residents and neighborhoods. Here’s another thing I’ve learned in the past two years with construction on Deerfoot Rd…
Because we don’t have a Noise Bylaw in town the developer has started work early including deliveries at 5:20am, trucks backing down the road with a high pitch beep that wakes you from a sound sleep, and ending construction late with no regard or common curtesy for the residents’. Over two years ago when we wanted to sit in our yard on a warm summer night and relax, we listened to the loud hum of an air compressor and the explosive pops of the nail gun well past 6 pm. We called the building inspector about a construction noise ordinance to provide reasonable start and end times and he said they couldn’t do anything about it; if we had a noise issue he told us to call the police. We’ve been calling the police and the most recent call they said they couldn’t do anything about it and to call the building inspector. It has come full circle.

Back in December, I noticed on MySouthborough that a citizen had asked the BOS to consider a Noise bylaw for town meeting. The BOS decided not to go forward with it but suggested the resident could submit a Citizen’s petition with enough signatures. I reached out to the resident to provide support and help him gather signatures for a comprehensive Noise bylaw for our residents. We had close to 70 signatures and it will be a warrant article at the 2020 town meeting.

Take a look at the proposed Southborough Noise Bylaw here and feel free to post your comments and questions at the end of the document. Not only will the bylaw address appropriate start and end times for construction in residential neighborhoods it addresses other intrusive noises and solutions to find a balance for residents and business, and more importantly provides the police the ability to enforce the law. No bylaw- no enforcement by police. Residents should be aware of the bylaw prior to town meeting.

Keep raising awareness!

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