Annual Town Meeting: Tree Protection, Scenic Roads, and a Tree Fund (Updated)

The Planning Board hopes the third time's the charm for their two proposed bylaws. Another Article will seek to fund removing, maintaining, and replacing trees.

Above: Many residents prize Southborough’s public shade trees. Town officials will seek (again) to pass bylaws to help protect them. (photo by Beth Melo)

Three Articles on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant are related to how the Town can protect and maintain Southborough’s tree lined streets.

On Saturday, the Planning Board will try to convince Southborough voters to pass Articles to protect Public Shade Trees and designate new Scenic Roads. If that sounds like déjà vu redux, that’s because it’s the third Town Meeting Warrant in a row to include those topics.

That doesn’t mean both Articles have been shot down two prior times. It’s more complicated.

The Scenic Roads bylaw was never officially voted up or down. A version of the Tree Protection Bylaw did fail last fall. But the Planning Chair asserts that the revised version eliminates the objection voters voiced.

Also on the Warrant is an Article to help fund maintaining the trees along town roadways.

I expect all three Articles to be among those debated at the meeting. For those of you planning to participate, below is more context.

Years ago, the Planning Board heard from residents upset over purportedly healthy trees removed in town by Public Works and/or National Grid without notice.

Board members opined the DPW wasn’t properly complying with state laws for protection of trees in the public right of way, especially for those on Scenic Roads in town. Under state laws, the Planning Board and “Tree Warden” must jointly advertise and hold hearings on those tree (or stone wall) removals on Scenic Roads, unless imminent danger requires quickly removing trees. (For non-scenic roads, the responsibility lies only with Tree Warden.)

For over a year, Planning went back and forth with the DPW and Select Board members to try to fix the process.

During their research, Planning learned that more roads were designated as Scenic Roads than they previously believed. In 1978, Town Meeting designated that all roads that had been accepted by that time would be given the designation. (That’s except for numbered state routes, which can’t be.)

After coming to agreement on a process with the Select Board, Planning sought to codify the new process into Town bylaws. They planned to present it at the 2022 Annual Town Meeting. To simplify the process and reinforce protections, they also decided to push for all roads adopted since 1978 to also be designated scenic.

Last spring, the Town had too many Articles to cover in one night and no backup plan for continuing the meeting to a second night.* The Planning Board agreed to ask voters to postpone their Tree Article, based on a promise that it would be first on the Warrant for a Special Town Meeting in the fall. 

Planning then tried to convince the hall to pass their Scenic Roads Article. Voters argued that they wanted to first understand what impact the Tree protection bylaw could have. They postponed the Article.

In the Fall, Planning presented its case to voters for implementing the Tree protection bylaw. Voters objected. Arguments mainly focused on the permit requirement for excavation under the “drip line” of public shade trees.

Planning Chair Meme Luttrell argued that protecting the root system was important for the stability and health of trees. The permit process would allow the Tree Warden Designee (a DPW employee) to “mitigate” harm to the tree roots.

Several residents raised concerns about infringing on homeowners’ rights. Former Select Board member Bonnie Phaneuf argued that the requirement could impede the ability to deal with septic emergencies over a weekend.

The Article was voted down. At that time, rather than presenting the Scenic Roads Article again, Planning asked the hall to indefinitely postpone it. 

On February 28th, Luttrell presented the revised bylaw proposal at a Select Board Meeting. She noted that the offending drip line language was removed. Planning also incorporated changes that had been proposed by the Select Board last fall (and accepted as an amendment at the Special Town Meeting). Additionally, the board made some edits that weren’t substantial based on Select Board member Sam Stivers’s recommendations after going through the Article “with a fine tooth comb”.

In addition to laying out the process for pursuing the removal of trees in the public way, the Article requires replacing removed trees. The details for that will be outlined in a Planning Board policy. Both the draft bylaw (Article 26) and draft policy can be found here.

An Article proposed by the Select Board (# 27 Tree Maintenance Fund) would follow up to fund related work. The Warrant explains:

This article will be utilized to complete the inventory of public shade trees and begin a study of where new trees can be placed in the public right of way. Funds will be added to this article every year in order to purchase new trees as part of a tree replacement program.

As of the Select Board’s last meeting, the amount to appropriate this year wasn’t designated. Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski expected to have that for tonight’s meeting. She confirmed that it will be part of the motion at Town Meeting. [Editor’s Note: The Town has posted the planned motion as asking for $30K, to be transferred from the amount approved at last fall’s Town Meeting.]**

The following Article (# 28) is Planning Board’s effort to designate as Scenic Roads the 68 Town roads accepted since 1978. (Click here for the list.)

At the Select Board’s February Meeting, Planning Member Marnie Hoolahan advocated that having all town roads under the same designation will make it easier for the public and officials to understand what process to follow.

Stockwell-Highland trees (by Beth Melo)Worth noting, trees and walls at intersections of scenic and non-scenic roads have caused some process issues between Planning and the DPW. (That includes a tree, right, at the corner of Stockwell Road that Planning determined last May was in a section that was part of an open space easement.)

Hoolahan told the Select Board they should think of the Article as as a legal designation related laws protecting trees and stone walls, and not focus the concept of “scenic”.

That view wasn’t shared by the majority of the Select Board. Last year, Member Andrew Dennington opined that Scenic Roads should be reserved for historic, tree lined roads and not applied to modern subdivisions. In February, he was one of the three Select Board members who was unconvinced by Hoolihan’s position, along with Malinowski, and Chair Kathy Cook. (In a split vote, it was supported by Stivers and Lisa Braccio.)

You can read more of my coverage on issues related to Town trees here.

*Lingering safety concerns due to Covid led officials to hold the meeting at Algonquin where there was more capacity for voters to be spaced out. But the high school’s auditorium is in high demand, and no second night was scheduled.

**Updated (3/23/23 1:58 pm): As promised I’m updating on the amount proposed for the Tree Maintenance Fund. The motions posed to the Town Meeting page call to:

transfer the sum of $30,000 from Article 3 of the October 13, 2022 Special Town Meeting for the ongoing maintenance and new planting of trees.

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Michael Weishan
11 months ago

For residents concerned about our trees and streetscapes, you should be aware that another dangerous and costly project is slowly advancing toward your pocketbooks: the Cordaville Road project. Proposed by our benighted former DPW head, this road widening project of Rt 85 between Mt. Vickery and Southville Road would cut down every large street tree and destroy every stone wall on the western side of the road for over a mile, and push the current road boundary some 10′ into western residents’ front yards—including mine—wiping tens of thousands off property values and essentially putting our living rooms on the centerline. How this disastrous concept ever got funded with our tax dollars I don’t know, but Cordaville Road residents woke up one day last summer to see all their trees tagged with a “yellow ribbon of death.” Although a direct link has now been removed from the DPW website, the plans can still be found here, and the project is still very much alive: https://www.southboroughtown.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif7351/f/uploads/southborough_-_cordaville_road.pdf As a state road, Cordaville would not benefit from any of the proposed protections above, so we residents have to speak up. I hope you will join me in making sure this doomsday scenario for the Cordaville Road neighborhood never comes to pass. God knows we need a new sidewalk and roadbed, but not at this cost.

Michael Weishan
11 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Yes, thank you Beth. Your readers should note the following plan. Cordaville Road Plans with Required Tree Removals Highlighted And yes, while Galligan SAID she was going to receive public input, it wasn’t until Capital Planning told her that they had better let residents know of her idea to chop down all their shade trees, that the ribbons of death appeared last summer. The planning for this project was done without any public notification to my knowledge, and has already resulted in 10’s (100’s?) of thousands of dollars of planning/design charges billed to the taxpayers.

David Parry
11 months ago

Here we go again. You guessed it ….. Yes, its yet ANOTHER example of the Galligan (former DPW Sup) autocratic misrule. Thank God she was forced to resign by her boss , Mark Purple, Town Administrator,. Purple has done a bad job of supervising Galligan. In particular, his job was to ensure that there are open, public reviews of all proposed projects. But he failed miserably to organize any public reviews of the OUTRAGEOUSLY AGGRESSIVE expansion of Cordaville Rd.

So, yet again, Galligan managed to SECRETELY plan a large project. She had NO public reviews, at which residents could voice their opinions. This project is a gross widening of Cordaville Rd (Rte 85) . Few people knew about this proposal …EXCEPT OUR INEPT SELECT BOARD … WHO HAVE BEEN ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL !

It is a pity that all 5 members of the Select Board are not up for re-election. All 5 need to be replaced, wholesale, including especially Chair Cook who is the most responsible for the current, ineffective management of out Town.

WHAT EXCUSE IS THERE … FOR HAVING NO PUBLIC REVIEWS OF THE CORDAVILLE RD WIDENING ?

Voters … please vote YES for BOTH the tree protection bylaw, and the scenic Roads Bylaw.

Vote NO on 12 and 13, the St Marks Rd Project. We don t need this unnecessary project. which is really nothing more than a free GIFT to a wealthy private School. .

Let’s take BACK control.

David Parry
11 months ago

This is yet another example of a NEW BYLAW that has been found necessary … because of the arbitrary rule of former DPW Sup Karen Galligan, who resigmed last year … and guess why.

Galligan did what she wanted , and there was no supervision by her inept boss, Mark Purple, the Town Administrator. He was her protector for twenty long years —- until she caused the utter chaos of the St Marks Rd Project. That was too visible and embarassing. So Purple — (who was equally responsible, WITH Galligan, for the mis-spending) — engineered her resignation. She was the sacrificial lamb, leaving Purple saFe — for the time being.

Much worse than her arbitrary behavior in tree cutting … has been her FAKE reasons and justifications for the St Marks Rd Project. … Her justification was that the intersection ” flooded ” during rain-storms … and she claimed the only way to fix it was by abandoning the existing road, and then building an entirely NEW road located 300 feet to the south !

But the existing road works fine and does not need replacing ! Galligan ignored the fact that St Marks actually CAUSED the flooding in the first place … by building a stone wall within the road right-of-way. Galligan SHOULD have ordered St Marks to remedy the flooding, at their own expense — by, for instance, making drainage holes through the wall, so that water could drain away. — as it did before the wall was built.

Yet Galligan failed to order a remedy by her Alma Mater ( Yes, you guessed it SHE IS AN ALUMNUS OF ST MARKS SCHOOL — AND THEREIN LIES THE REASON FOR WHAT HAS HAPPENED. Yes … the Town is actually giving an expensive GIFT to the School, and this gift is a free parking lot built over top of our perfectly good road … St Marks Rd.– which is THE OLDEST , HISTORIC ROAD IN SOUTHBOROUGH, BUILT OVER AN AUTHENTIC INDIAN TRAIL —AND THE ROUTE OF THAT INDIS TRAIL DESERVES TO BE PRESERVED FOREVER … (instead of being sacrificed and wiped out forever under an ugly parking lot,)

Our Select Board wants you, Voters , to abandon the existing St Marks Rd , and swap that land with a grass lawn owned
by St Marks.

This project is not just corrupt. It is unethical, unnecessary and a waste of public money. It is NOT a legitimate “public” purpose project. It is really a public gift to a PRIVATE SCHOOL.

St Marks can very easily build their own parking lot, on the own grass triangle, where they have been parking their cars for decades. ST MARKS DOES NOT NEED THE HELP OF THE TOWN.

Finally, let’s deal with costs. It will coct the Town NOTHING to cease work on the project. ZERO. St Marks can continue on their own — to build their own parking lot entirely on their own grass triangle.

To finish the project will cost another half million. So, on top of Phase One, that brings the TOTAL to about one million dollars.

INSTEAD OF PAYING PROPERTY TAXES, St Marks gives the Town (voluntarily) about $50,000 each year, as a “Payment In Lieu of Taxes” called PILOT. That is less than the fee that a rich parent must pays for one “boarder” at St Marks.

Does that seem generous? If they were treated as a “normal” business, St Marks would have to pay property tax of $1.7 million each year … (about 30 timesx
greater than their actual payment)…. This is based on their a tual total assessed value of $115 million on 211 acres.

But get this … the Town is paying about one million total for the St Marks Rd project … and that means it will take fully TWENTY YEARS of PILOT payments of $50,000 per year, to even EQUALTHE COST OF THE TOWN GIFT TO ST MARKS.

Enough said. This Project is going to be voted as Articles12 and 13.

Voters … PLEASE use your votes at TOWN Meeting to teach our Select Board a simple lesson — that Town Meeting will:

(1) NOT TOLERATE BAD ETHICS AND CORRUPTION.

(2). NOT TOLERATE GIVING FURTHER GIFTS TO A WEALTHY PRIVATE SCHOOL.

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