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.