Tree Hearing Outcomes

Above: One tree at Stub Tree Lane will be removed this fall and another just trimmed. (images from photos posted for Tree Removal Hearing)

A month ago, I informed readers about some public shade tree removal requests that the Select Board would be addressing on May 31st under two agenda items. On the principle of better late than never, I’m finally following up on the outcomes.

Some requests were rejected or postponed based on process issues. Other removals or vegetation management decisions were made that night without much controversy. 

Below are the highlights.

Tree at Stockwell & Highland (images L-R by Beth Melo and cropped from DPW posted pics)The tree on the agenda that was creating the most controversy before the hearing was Stockwell Lane tree. Although the large beauty is defended by some, a resident complained that she was worried about it creating a dangerous site line at the intersection with Highland Street.

During the hearing, Chair Kathy Cook agreed with Planning Board complaints that the tree didn’t fall under the Select Board’s jurisdiction. She said that the resident who requested the removal would have to deal with the property owner first “then probably some open space rules to get this taken down”.

As for the other five requests, three were approved to be removed:

  • A maple at 6 Sunrise Drive
  • An oak across from 65 Marlborough Road
  • One of three oak trees on Stub Toe Lane

Dead trees at 6 Sunrise Dr and 65 Marlborough Rd (from DPW posted pics)The first two trees on the chopping block were ones that hadn’t prompted any objections from residents. Officials referred to them as clearly appearing to be dead. Select Board members agreed.

Stub Toe Lane trees (from DPW posted pics)Stub Toe Lane was a bit more complicated. The request from a resident identified three trees which prompted a public objection. (See posted images right.)

An arborist determined that one of the trees, a double stem oak on the corner, was suffering from Crown dieback. That meant it had begun the process of dying. The others were alive.

Fire Chief Achilles recommended removing the tree on the corner to improve the ladder truck’s access to the end of Stub Toe Lane. (The issue is mainly with snowbanks in the winter.)

The Tree Warden’s recommendation was that removing just that one tree would be sufficient.

The Select Board approved removing the tree, but also agreed to two mitigation requests by Planning Board members.

Planning Chair Meme Luttrell said she agreed with the arborist. But she requested that the removal wait until the fall, after nesting season.

Planning member Debbie DeMuria asked that the removed tree be replaced with two new ones, set back further from the road. The Tree Warden agreed that there was room to allow that.

One other tree that was studied did have an area of it that was dead and above a home. The Warden’s recommendation was to clean up the tree rather than remove it. He agreed to again wait on that until after nesting season.

Upon questioning, Warden Chris Leroy assured that the DPW’s trimming would be more controlled (with preservation in mind) than the “flat cutting” conducted by National Grid around power lines.

Following that hearing, there was discussion about trees at Deerfoot and Flagg Road that the DPW had previously asked to be removed. In April, the Planning Board had rejected the removals, partially based on objections to the associated road project.

Public Works informed the Select Board that their revised plans to improve the intersection would allow the trees to remain. Members of the Planning Board still raised their concerns about the road project. 

Planning Member Marnie Hoolahan argued that the DPW had bypassed the Planning Board by not bringing their planned changes to the public ways for their approval. It was only brought to their attention because the Town Planner checked the list of requested tree removals against the scenic roads list.*

DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan said they hadn’t thought they needed to go before the Planning Board. She explained that Town Counsel had opined that they only needed to go to Planning if their changes would move the the right of way. She clarified that while the plans would change “where people travel on it” it would still be within the existing right of way boundaries.

Beyond the issues of roads and trees, Planning members questioned the legality of holding the discussion that evening.

The item was listed as a Tree Hearing Appeal- Deerfoot and Flagg Roads. However, Cook told the meeting attendees that it wasn’t really an appeal, just a hearing.

Cook said that Town Counsel advised that the notice covered the discussion. However, there were multiple questions about that, given that a hearing wasn’t formally advertised as Open Meeting Law requires.

Ultimately, Cook decided to postpone the discussion to a future meeting.

At their June 14th meeting, Cook clarified why she had announced on May 31st that the discussion wasn’t an appeal. The Select Board Chair had just learned that Town Counsel determined that the Select Board is legally considered to be the Town’ Tree Warden for tree removal decisions. (They can still delegate to an employee, as they have, other administrative tasks under the title of Tree Warden.) You can read more about that here.

As I wrote in my personnel update that covered the Tree Warden issue, the Select Board and Luttrell agreed to hold a joint hearing for their boards to deal with removing a list of dead trees. The date was TBD, but the hope is to address those removals before the Fall Special Town Meeting.

*The Planning Board only has joint jurisdiction on the removal of public shade trees if they are on scenic roads. (Although, under a temporary, agreed upon process, a member of the Planning Board is now invited to participate in the review of trees to be removed. That gives them the opportunity to provide input before the Select Board makes it’s decision.)

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