May 31st Tree removal hearing raises more questions

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May 31st Tree removal hearing raises more questions
May 31st Tree removal hearing raises more questions

Above: Of the trees newly in jeopardy, the most controversial is one at the corner of a scenic and non-scenic road. (images LR by Beth Melo and cropped from DPW posted pics)

A Select Board hearing on more tree removals has been scheduled for a week from tonight. Some residents are concerned about the potential for the Board to approve cutting down live public shade trees. Others are questioning whether the agreed upon process is being properly followed.

The notice states that the hearing will cover discussion of:

the removal of six (6) trees located at: 5 Stub Toe Lane, 6 Sunrise Drive, across from 65 Marlboro Road and 2 Stockwell Lane. The trees range in size from ten inch (10”) to forty-two inch (42”) and consist of five (5) oak trees and one (1) maple tree.

In looking into questions about those trees, I discovered that at the May 31st meeting, will also include the appeal of April 25th decisions about tree removals on Flagg and Deerfoot Road.

As most readers should know by now, there has been public upset over some live public shade trees removed by the DPW. The Planning Board and Select Board have been trying to work out a process to protect trees. They aren’t yet on the same page, but did come to a temporary agreement this spring. Officials would use a flow chart to manage the decision and hearing process.

That is meant to serve as a bridge until a longer term process is agreed upon. (That is likely to include voters’ weighing in on a proposed bylaw at a fall Special Town Meeting.)

Under the chart, Tree Warden hearings for removing trees on non-scenic roads would take place at Select Board meetings, with a Planning Board member invited to participate. But one of the live trees on the list is questionable as belonging on it. The split trunk tree listed as 2 Stockwell Lane is on the corner of Highland Street, which is a scenic road.

Public Works may have determined it belongs to Stockwell Lane based on the boundary lines for 2 Stockwell which extend to the corner. However, that sliver of Stockwell is within the area that was designated as “Open Space Easements” in the subdivision plan for the Stockwell development. (See images below. You can see more of the easement info in the packet from Planning’s November 15th meeting.)

May 31st Tree removal hearing raises more questions stockwell pic 2 from DPW 9 Highland and 2 Stockwell from GIS Map Stockwell subdivision from 2021 Open Space Monitoring report

At last night’s Planning Board meeting, Chair Meme Lutrell* said that in back and forth emails, she argued that the tree doesn’t fall under the non-scenic road process. It’s either on a scenic road, which would require a joint Planning Board hearing, or it should be left alone as part of open space.

On a community Facebook page, residents have been debating over a public call to save the tree. Some are looking to preserve the beautiful, majestic oak. But other comments included questions on the proximity of the tree to wires and as a site line hazard at the intersection.

As for the trees firmly on non-scenic roads, in the DPW’s pics, one looks dead, one damaged and precariously positioned, and the others clearly alive. (Below are highlights from the posted pics.)

6 Sunrise across from 65 Marlboro Road 5 stub toe

I reached out to the DPW for some more detail on the tree removal requests. DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan indicated that one tree was of concern to the Tree Warden and the others were based on resident requests. The details should be included in the Select Board’s packet to be posted prior to the meeting. (You can check here for that later this week. In the meantime, all you can see is their posted photos here.)

Under the flow chart process, the Select Board hearings were to be on the second Tuesday of the month. So I asked Public Works why this meeting is scheduled for May 31st. Galligan responded that it’s to wrap up the appeal process for the trees on Flagg and Deerfoot Road.

She is referring to trees considered at an April 25th Planning Board meeting. As I previously covered, while Planning and Tree Warden held hearings on the tree removals jointly, their decisions were separate.

The Warden, who works for the DPW, ruled to remove specified trees on Flagg and Deerfoot roads that interfere with a planned project to improve the intersection. Because there were objections to that decision, he noted that an appeal would automatically be heard by the Select Board.

However, the Planning Board denied the tree removal requests. (The Board also questioned whether the road project behind the request makes sense.) According to then-Chair Don Morris, the Select Board doesn’t have the authority to override Planning’s decision.

If that’s true, I’m not sure what the point would be of the Select Board weighing in on the Tree Warden’s decision. I haven’t heard if Town Counsel has provided any advice on that issue.

At last night’s planning meeting, new member Debbie DeMuria wondered why the DPW scheduled hearings for the six trees listed. She noted that they weren’t on the list of 29 tree removal requests that the DPW had previously posted (and updated as recently as May 11th).

During the discussion, DeMuria also recapped a recent conversation she had with a native of Deerfoot Road who now teaches Arboriculture and Urban Forestry at UMass Amherst. Kristina Bezanson teaches future arborists. The Board agreed to invite Bezanson to speak at a future meeting. Their hope is to get valuable input as they continue to refine what the town’s process should be for protecting and removing public trees.

*Lutrell was unanimously elected to Chair at the start of the meeting.