Submitted by Cheryl Dunson, President, Greenwich Tree Conservancy
First Selectman Camillo has formed a committee of residents and officials, including Reps. Meskers and Arora and a representative from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, that are demanding that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) take positive steps to reduce noise pollution as part of their upcoming $200+million I95 improvement project.
In addition to quiet paving, quiet joints, and noise barriers, trees and vegetation are another highly effective strategy to reduce noise pollution.
Over the past few years, CTDOT has clear cut acres of trees in Greenwich and noise levels have increased dramatically in town as a result. CTDOT treat trees like obstacles to be removed rather than assets to be maintained – assets which provide noise abatement as well as reduce flooding, sequester carbon dioxide, reduce cross winds (particularly important for vans and trucks), and moderate heat among many important benefits that these wooded roadside corridors provide.
For this project which extends from Exit 2 through Ext 6, CTDOT fails to provide a plan identifying the number, size or location of trees to be removed although it has provided much other data on accidents, vehicles per day, and the like.
Connecticut is actively moving forward with plans and initiatives to address climate change while CTDOT is undermining these goals by wholesale tree removals in Fairfield County including Greenwich, Stamford and Westport and across the state. It is sadly ironic that at a time when there is widespread acknowledgement of the many benefits that trees provide, that CTDOT is allowed to remove these valuable woodland assets with impunity. We urge the Governor to require CTDOT to document all trees that are anticipated to be removed; provide a site plan of tree removals to local officials for review and consensus; work with local officials to develop a re-vegetation plan as part of the design process and provide mitigation funds for re-planting species in removal areas.
During a public hearing on the fate of a mature Oak Tree on Greenwich Avenue in front of TD Bank, a couple dozen residents spoke in favor of finding a compromise or workaround that would both save the tree and address the need for an up-to-code handicapped parking spot.
The tree is due to be removed as part of the intersection improvements planned to start shortly, with a price tag of about $300,000.
Mature trees along the west side of Greenwich Avenue.
The Board of Selectman and the Planning & Zoning commission have already granted approval for the Municipal Improvement for the project.
While the residents objected to cutting down the tree, they mostly praised the intersection improvement project and acknowledged the imperative to provide ADA compliant parking.
Senior Civil Engineer for Greenwich, Jason Kaufman, said the project would enhance the intersection with over 1800 sq ft of new green space.
However, he said due to the grades of Greenwich Ave, the location of the tree was the most viable location for a handicapped parking spot and an ADA accessible ramp.
He said the tree trunk impeded sight lines for drivers coming across Greenwich Ave from East to West Elm Street.
Residents disputed the issue about sight lines, and GPD Captain Jim Bonney said that while in the last three years there had been 129 accidents on Greenwich Ave – most of which were backing incidents – only one accident had taken place at the intersection of Greenwich Ave and Elm Street, and it was minor.
“If you’re interested, the most dangerous intersection in town is Arch Street at Railroad Ave,” he continued adding that there were 41 accidents at the intersection of Greenwich Ave and Railroad, making it the sixth ranked for past last three years.
Kaufman also said the crown of the Oak tree was “not looking comparatively healthy to the rest of the trees.”
He explained that while there was an existing handicapped spot in front of TD Bank, drivers who parked there were forced into the street.
“It doesn’t meet code the way it is today,” he said. “When we do projects, we are required to make them meet code.”
Peter Malkin of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy asked about moving the handicapped space slightly to the north, but Mr. Kaufman said ADA codes were very stringent, and required a minimal slope.
“A half an inch to an inch makes a big difference,” he said. “Yes, there would be additional cost for additional sidewalk, curbing and pavement.
Lucy Krasnor agreed with Mr. Malkin, saying the tree was particularly strong and beautiful. “I register a real urge to not cut down this tree,” she said. “I think every project in town lately – all anyone thinks about is removing trees and I’m very upset about that.”
Tori Sandifer also objected to the removal of the tree. She said that while it might cost more to relocate the handicapped spot, there were costs to removing the tree.
Mr. Kaufman said it would cost more to move the handicapped spot than to cut down the tree and plant a new one south of the intersection.
John Conte who is a landscape architect and CT licensed arborist, member of the Greenscape Committee of P&Z and vice chair of ARC, and board member of Green & Clean, vice chair of Greenwich Audubon spoke passionately.
While he complimented the intersection improvements overall, he said he hoped the town might come up with a workaround.
“I ask that we really change the mindset, and paradigm, of designing and drawing, and if a tree just happens to be in the way that tree just gets a red X on it,” he said. “There are so few left.”
He added that one could the case that every tree on Greenwich Ave was in a state of decline.
“They’re all in such a difficult environment, with such a limited root area,” he said. “If we were to tag each one and say it’s in decline and should come down, we’d be in a sorry state.”
“We need to be placing a much higher level of importance on every tree,” Conte continued. “That handicapped ramp is super important, but it does not look like it’s an insurmountable problem to reposition it.”
Francia Alvarez of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, said that according to a UConn study, between 1985 and 2015, Greenwich had lost 868 acres of forest. Forests now represent only 37.1% of the land mass, which falls below state guidelines.
Alvarez asked tree warden Dr. Greg Kramer about the condition of the tree.
Dr. Kramer said the tree was in decline, but was not in imminent danger.
Alvarez asked if the tree had been fertilized.
Kramer said the town had pruned all the trees on the Avenue recently and this tree’s canopy was thinning. He said the trees on the Avenue had not been fertilized. He said this tree “could use an influx of fertilization.”
Kramer said there was no plan to fertilize any of the trees on the Avenue.
Mark Greenwald, a landscape designer, who is part of both Green & Clean and the Tree Conservancy, and a former city planner with New York city, said the tree seemed in good health and could benefit from some fertilization and pruning.
“This particular tree ends a line of trees down Greenwich Avenue, which are important,” he said. “To lose any one of them is unfortunate.”
Matt Popp, also a landscape architect, agreed with Conte and Greenwald. “This is a terrific tree,” he said, adding that its presence is a de facto traffic calming measure.
Stephanie Cowie, of the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities, who uses a wheelchair, described the challenges of getting in and out of a van. She said most handicapped spaces were neither accessible nor compliant, and that ramps coming out of handicapped vans are always on the right side. She said therefore the handicapped space could not simply be flipped to across the street.
Ms Cowie also said she was looking forward to not having to roll her wheelchair into oncoming Greenwich Ave traffic, but rather to access the sidewalk and crosswalk from a spot that is up to code.
Mary Hull, longtime director of Greenwich Green & Clean, said she had been greening up the Ave for 35 years, and that she’d hope to see a compromise between DPW and Parks & Trees.
“I know when the leaves come out it will not be perfect, but according to the tree warden, it does not present a hazard,” Hull said, adding that the tree had a number of years of life remaining.
JoAnn Messina, who is director of the Tree Conservancy, said there was a false choice between ADA compliance and saving a tree, and it was not the first time.
Messina shared that had been the caregiver for someone wheelchair bound for several years. “I firsthand understand the need for ADA compliance. I also understand the health benefits of trees.”
“It’s a difficult situation when the tree hearing happens at the end of a project,” she said, adding that she sympathized with Mr. Kaufman for having done so much work and then having to deal with the tree situation at the end of the process.
“That’s something that should be rectified,” Messina said.
Tree Warden Dr. Kramer said there were initially 41 people on the Zoom call, and 30 of them remained on the call after about an hour. He said most of the 16 letters he had received about the tree were in favor of retaining it.
Kaufman said there were opportunities to plant new trees in the beds that will be created on the southern side of the intersection – either in front of Betteridge Jewelry or Bank of America.
Maggie Bridge from Sam Bridge Nursery & Greenhouses suggested it was important to keep as many mature trees in town as possible.
She said while ADA compliance was important, she hoped there was a way to create a workaround to save the tree.
In fact, several people participated in a conversation about finding a way to accommodate an up-to-code handicapped parking space while sparing the tree.
Ms Bridge talked about the value of mature trees in combating climate change and global warming. Ms Bridge said it would take decades for new trees to reach substantial size.
Sebastian Dostmann, who is part of the Greenwich Community Projects Fund, asked if moving the handicapped spot to the north was a “budget issue.”
Mr. Kaufman said the DPW was provided a budget by the town.
“We’re expected to deliver the project within budget,” he said. “At this point we’re within the budget.”
Leslie Petrick and Peter Malkin both suggested that private donations might make up for the cost of a workaround to spare the tree.
Malkin said he wondered if it was accurate that the tree was a sight line issue.
“Please remove the budget as the issue,” Malkin said.
Alyssa Keleshian, who is part of the Reimagine Greenwich effort and a property owner at 225 Greenwich Avenue, said the tree provided cool canopy for strollers who walk the Avenue.
“These trees, like the other ones on the Avenue, have a strong visual aspect to our community. They create a warm, welcoming aesthetic – much better than a backdrop of some looking at some of our more mature buildings.”
“If we remove this tree, what’s going to stop us from removing other trees?” she asked.
Ms Keleshian challenged Mr. Kaufman as to whether he had done outreach to property owners and merchants on Greenwich Ave. She said she had spoken to several of them and they told her they had not been consulted, and had been taken off guard and were opposed to the removal of the tree.
Mr. Kaufman said there had been several meetings with landlords and tenants at all four corners of the intersection over several months.
Row of mature trees looking north on Greenwich Avenue.
Mr. Kaufman said moving the handicapped spot would require a complete redesign of the intersection.
He explained that incorporating ADA grades into a design on Greenwich Avenue was ‘extremely challenging.’
“While it may look and appear ‘easy,’ it never is,” Kaufman said.
Bill Lewis, who lives on East Elm Street said he opposed the removal of the tree.
“And if that scuttles the plan to do the bump outs, that’s all the better in my view because I really feel they are part and parcel of a plan that makes the intersection less safe because it’s connected with removing police from directing traffic there,” he said. “And if part of the argument is, ‘We’re making it greener,’and you’re taking out a beautiful tree,’they don’t even have that argument in favor of this plan.”
Lisa Vitiello, the owner of the building at 231 Greenwich Avenue, said she understood the importance of ADA, but she hoped for a workaround.
Ms Vitiello said she operated DaVinci’s restaurant for many years on the Ave. She said she had not been notified about the tree removal.
“I only found out very recently about the potential removal of this beautiful tree,” she said, adding that she had lived in Greenwich since 1967.
She described how customers of DaVinci’s used to gaze out at the beautiful tree. “I think that’s a perfect frame for that corner.”
The tree warden said he had three business days to make his determination and that anyone objecting to the decision has the ability to take the issue to the CT Supreme Court.
Greenwich ought to coordinate the voices of interested parties for vegetation management along I-95 and come up with an ambitious wish list of items including sound barriers and guard rails in connection with the upcoming Dept of Transportation project on I-95 between Exits 2 and 6.
That was the resounding message of Wednesday’s P&Z Greenscape committee discussion attended by DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel, State Rep Steve Meskers, and JoAnn Messina, who is the director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy.
Messina said her organization had worked with the town to plant 4,500 trees on public land in Greenwich over the past 14 years, created a Town arboretum and worked on vegetation management with PURA, which has regulatory authority over utilities, including Eversource.
But, she noted, the Dept of Transportation does not have a regulatory authority.
Messina said it was time to propose legislation and that Senator Alex Kasser and State Rep Steve Meskers had offered offered to sponsor a bill.
Mr. Meskers said before a bill could be drafted, a public hearing should be held.
Messina said it was difficult to reconcile the knowledge that trees are a weapon against climate change with the Dept of Transportation seeking to clear cut trees “…without talking about it, without mapping them, without knowing what they are, and then, more importantly, having no interest in replanting.”
The focus of the Greenscape committee has been to landscape and beautify the six-mile Route 1 corridor from Port Chester to Stamford, with projects including a hundreds of spring flowering bulbs and a Chestnut Allée in the large island at the foot of Stanwich Rd (across from Pizza Post).
They agreed it might be wise to give suggestions to the state Dept of Transportation for a similar vision for I-95 from exit 2-6.
I-95 northbound near exit 5 after tree removal by the DOT in 2019.
Mr. Michel from DPW said he would draft a joint letter that would come from First Selectman Fred Camillo and be co-signed by departments including DPW, Parks & Trees, and Conservation asking that a variety of items be included in the I95 project.
He said the DOT project managers reported receiving over 135 emails since the Jan 21 public hearing, and that the meeting had the highest attendance of any public meeting since the DOT moved their meetings to Zoom.
Mr. Michel said the DOT had no plans to do sound studies for sound barriers.
“In order to get a study done, typically they need a full lane addition,” he said, adding that was why sound barriers were erected in Darien where an acceleration/deceleration lane was added.
He suggeted Greenwich’s elected officials – State Rep Steve Meskers, State Senator Alex Kasser, State Rep Kim Fiorello and State Rep Harry Arora – work together to try to at least get a sound study done so they might later seek funding for sound barriers.
“The whole idea that we have to gather together to ask our state not to clear cut large swaths of trees along residential neighborhoods is just astounding to me.”
John Conte, a landscape architect and licensed arborist, Greenscape Committee member
Mr. Michel said the bulk of the tree removal had to do with accessing catch basins and pipes for maintenance.
He also suggested the Greenscape committee come up with a wish list in the next few weeks, followed by a more detailed plan in the next few months, and offered to incorporate their “ask” in the joint letter with Mr. Camillo.
Large swath of trees removed by DOT close to exit 5. Feb 1, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager
Large swath of trees removed by DOT close to exit 5. Feb 1, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager
State Rep Steve Meskers said Greenwich should push back on the issues of vegetation and sound barriers.
“We should think more ambitiously and aggressively than we think what their precepts are,” Meskers said. “We need to knock and ask a little harder….They’re beginning to feel the heat and they are becoming more attentive.”
Meskers said he had spoken to the Dept of Transportation liaison Pam Sucato. “I said, look, ‘There has been an assault visually on I-95, and now you’re coming in for your last go round for the next 30 to 40 years.’ I said, ‘You’re going to get pushback from every degradation of the last 4-5 years that have stripped trees and vegetation in a very high residential neighborhood. This is not Bridgeport; you’re not surrounded by factories on 95 here.”
Meskers he anticipated the Dept of Transportation might cite a lack of funding for vegetation or sound barriers, and that it might be necessary to appeal to the DOT commissioner, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Jim Himes, or even DEEP.
“We just have to look and figure out where the resources are,” he said. “Their mandate is to make straight the roads, and we’re in the way.”
Mary Hull, the director of Green & Clean, suggested pushing for attractive wood backed guard rails like the ones on the Merritt Parkway. She said they were not much more difficult to maintain than the unattractive metal ones.
Susan Foster said the town “cannot cave” on getting aesthetically pleasing, attractive guard rails, especially at the exit loop at Exit 5 by Riverside Commons.
“We have to fight to get what’s on the Merritt at least in that section,” she said. “We can’t just accept the cheapest.”
Wildflowers VS Shrubs and Small Trees
Jim Michel said the state had expressed willingness to plant wildflowers along the highway in the area of Exit 3-4 where the sewer line runs, and where trees were clear cut a few years ago.
“They are willing to do some wildflower seed mix there. That’s about the extent of it,” Mr. Michel said. “We don’t necessarily disagree because there is a significant sanitary sewer infrastructure that carries sanitary sewer for 3/4 of the town in that area. In addition, they need access to their railroad.”
Mary Hull pointed out that flowers are only visible part of the year, and that shrubs and small trees would be better.
“It is much more complicated to manage wildflowers than it would be if we used good sized bushes and wood chips that won’t hurt them,” she said.
“If we can use practical trees – if they’ll allow us to have things that are low growing or large shrubs, we might add a lot of green and a lot less maintenance,” Hull added.
Ms Foster agreed. She said the clear cutting would result in a major weed problem, and wildflowers were not the right treatment.
Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer said there was some precedent for the Dept of Transportation planting trees. He noted the they had planted trees along I-95 (across from the office building at 1 Sound Shore Drive close to Indian Field Rd.
Dr. Kramer also said the town was working on a tree maintenance program that might serve as a model for the State.
“This committee could celebrate that, and make it known as part of an ongoing effort, instead of complaining about what we lost – what we are preserving,” said John Conte, of the Greenscape committee.
Francia Alvarez of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said the Greenscape committee’s focus on Greenwich as a gateway was a visionary approach that should serve as a model for I-95.
“I remember as a kid coming over that first bridge into Connecticut from New York, everything would be better. It would be greener. That’s what we want to continue,” Alvarez said. “We want people to look around and say, ‘Connecticut is great. Let’s move here.’”
Low Noise Pavement
“The big issue with the noise is really, it’s where the rubber meets the road. In Europe they use low noise pavement,” Alvarez said. “We talk about mitigating noise, but we can be focusing about stopping the noise before it starts.”
“I cannot imagine that there has been any discussion with Dept of Transportation on that,” Mr. Michel replied. “I can ask the question, but I can envision it’s going to be your basic asphalt overlay.”
Richard Hein of the Greenscape committee suggested the committee aim for low hanging fruit, and “going after things that are simple and achievable.”
Mr. Conte disagreed.
“I think it’s good to put things out there that are aspirational like low noise asphalt,” Conte said. “It’s kind of a sad perspective for Jim to believe that the state has never considered or thought about that. Why not? It’s not like we’re a third world country that doesn’t have access to that.”
Peter Malkin of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said the 2018 storm drainage project created a “horrible industrial look” between Exits 3 and 4 between I95 and the train tracks, and asked the DPW to work with the Dept of Transportation to negotiate some planting.
Malkin said the GTC would like to work with DPW and DOT on plantings that would not interferes with the storm drain or railroad.
“It would be something that would restore a sense of being in Greenwich rather than being in the Bronx,” Malkin said.
He also suggested that Mr. Michel and DPW work with the tree warden, Dr. Kramer, in requesting the Dept of Transportation do plantings around Exit 3, considering there is significant new lane work planned there.
Mr. Michel said the lane work at exit 3 there was “fairly minor.”
Ms Foster said the project provided a unique opportunity to show the country how to do repairs correctly while being environmentally sensitive.
She said she had spoken extensively with Pam Sucato of the Dept of Transportation about being proactive instead of reactive.
“My understanding of what generated all these trees come down along I-95 was all the lawsuits that happened. My point to her was isn’t it sad that the state didn’t have the vision to put money into the maintenance and selection of trees, and instead neglected for decades the care along our highways to the point we had deaths occurring and major lawsuits.”
Foster said it would be useful to know how many millions of dollars had been paid as the result of lawsuits.
“And now the solution is to get rid of the potential liability?” she asked, adding that the Dept of Transportation’s stance was that they were doing “a good natural thing” by getting rid of “invasive trees.”
The project is at the 30% design phase, so there is time for more input. Messina and Meskers urged residents to continue to reach out to the Dept of Transportation with comments.
The project is open for public comment through Monday, February 22, 2021. Residents can email the CTDOT or call at (860) 944-1111. Reference Project No. 56-316 in your voicemail.
Email Print Submitted by Cheryl Dunson, Greenwich Tree Conservancy President
The Greenwich Tree Conservancy shares the alarm of residents protesting the recent clear-cutting of trees along the railroad tracks bordering the Riverside School and reflected in the residents’ Change.org petition available online.
This is a continuation of clear-cutting that occurred along exits 3-4 and now to 5-6. This clear-cutting policy, reportedly to protect the catenary poles and tracks from falling trees, has devastating effects on communities. These “safety” policies have created other issues by eliminating the existing benefits of these wooded corridors for possible risk.
The wooded Right of Way (ROW) area adjacent to the tracks provides many benefits including screening from the trains, noise reduction, air quality remediation, stormwater runoff protection, wildlife habitat, and a safety barrier. After the clear-cutting of ROWs in the Connecticut towns of Falls Village and Cornwall, a pesticide application program was used to maintain “infrastructure safety”. Chemical pesticide extends the negative impacts to the Town and the environment and, for coastal communities in particular, to Long Island Sound.
The Greenwich Tree Conservancy is proud of our partnership with the Town to preserve and enhance Greenwich’s tree canopy. Since our founding in 2007, we have planted thousands of trees throughout town, including on all our public school grounds. While we deeply regret the reason for needing to plant more trees at Riverside School, we are happy to work in partnership with the Town to help mitigate on the school property. However, the municipality should not be the only ones shouldering the burden created by ConDOT – they too should be required to mitigate along the right of way.
Greenwich depends upon the expertise of our Town Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer, supported by our First Selectman Camillo, to help protect the town from wanton clear-cutting. While our local officials are using their influence to call for judicious tree removal, the GTC will work with the Town to remediate as much as possible. A large portion of the rail lines in Connecticut are owned by the State, and should be managed appropriately. The State and UCONN have worked together to develop the Stormwise program, which is designed “to tackle the challenge of maintaining the aesthetic appeal of forested Connecticut byways while reducing the potential of tree-cause damage to our infrastructure during severe storms.” This valuable work could be applied to our railroad corridor.
It is sadly ironic that at a time when there is widespread acknowledgement of the importance of trees in combating the many ill effects of climate change, that ConDOT/Metro North are allowed to remove these valuable woodland assets with impunity. The Greenwich Tree Conservancy urges Governor Lamont to send a clear message that trees and transportation can co-exist and direct ConDOT, Metro-North and DEEP to adopt Stormwise or similar refined approach for managing vegetation in our transportation and utility corridors. Put simply, indiscriminate clear-cutting is deforestation, not vegetation management and should not be labeled nor accepted as such! Successful vegetation management mitigates risk, while ensuring that our urban and edge forests are conserved, restored and made more resilient.
Protesters say too many trees have been removed from the area near the railroad tracks in the Riverside section of Greenwich on Dec. 15, 2020.
Photo: Ken Borsuk / Hearst Connecticut Media /
GREENWICH — Holding up signs and chanting “save our trees,” a group of residents gathered near Riverside School on Tuesday morning to protest Metro-North Railroad’s clear-cutting in the area as part of a maintenance project.
Since last week, work crews have been cutting down trees along the railroad tracks. The unhappy residents said they had unsuccessfully reached out to the town and the state to stop Metro-North.
“We’ve tried negotiating, now we’re shaming,” town resident Jane Brash said at the protest.
The trees were targeted for safety reasons, according to Metro-North officials. The goal is keep branches and trees along Metro-North’s right of way from falling onto the tracks. The tree-trimming program has been accelerated, Metro-North spokesperson Meredith Daniels said, before winter hits, when fallen trees and branches often disrupt train service.
“We wanted to bring attention to the situation and hopefully something will happen,” said Brash, one of the protest organizers. “People saw what happened when Metro-North clear-cut the trees along I-95 between Exits 3 and 4. It looks horrible. We care about our town. We care about the environment. We care about our wildlife. We care about our children.
”They are also frustrated by the lack of communication with Metro-North and its plan, if any, to plant new trees, she said.
“We understand that they are concerned about trees falling onto the tracks and disrupting service, but that doesn’t mean they have to cut down every tree,” Brash said.
Brash also said that removing the trees will increase noise in the area.The noise from cars on the highway and trains on the tracks has“increased dramatically” without the buffer of trees, town resident Mary Childs said.
“It seems like their strategy isn’t just to prune trees or cut down the dead ones, but to cut down every tree. They are clear-cutting everything,”Childs said. “We have tried everything to reach them. We have called and reached out to everyone we can and there has been no response. And our understanding is they’re going to continue this all along the tracks.
”First Selectman Fred Camillo said he has talked to residents and Metro-North, even walking the property with them.
It was unfortunate he did not receive more advance notice of the work,Camillo said. But there is little the town can do because Metro-North owns the property, he said.
“I understand they want to be heard by Metro-North, but we can’t control what happens on this property,” Camillo said when asked for comment. “Any trees or branches that could come down onto the tracksor the power lines or the nearby playground are going to be taken down.
”By working with Metro-North now, Camillo said he and Tree Warden Gregory Kramer are trying to save some of the trees.
Kramer said the town and Metro-North are in “constant contact.” He met with its workers at the site Tuesday and was told no new trees would be planted on the Metro-North property.
However, there will be planting on the school side of the property,completed through a public/private partnership that Camillo and Kramer put together.
“We will do whatever we can to get them the coverage they want there,”Camillo said.
During the meeting, Metro-North agreed to not remove nearly 20 trees and shrubs, Kramer said. He is hoping to walk farther along the line of the planned work in the coming weeks to save more trees.
About 25 people attended the rally outside the school, including members of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, the Riverside Association and the Riverside Garden Club.
Cheryl Dunson, president of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy’s board of directors, said the protest was about more than just the aesthetic value of the trees. It’s also about losing their environmental benefits.
“Instead of mindless clear-cutting, there ought to be judicious removal,”Dunson said. “There should be a real assessment first before they just come in and start cutting down trees.”
She said it’s unfortunate that the clear-cutting is happening near theschool, “because at the same time everyone is talking about the environment and climate change and planting trees, they’re removing an asset,” she said.
“Metro-North sees these trees as an obstacle, not a community asset we should try and manage. What kind of an example does that set for the children?” Dunson said.
An online petition to save the trees has been set up at Change.org. As of Tuesday afternoon, over 775 people had signed it.
The petition calls for residents to “use your voice to tell our elected officials to continue to fight for our environment and our town” and speak out against the “decimation of trees and wooded land bordering the railroad.”
By: Greenwich Sentinel | Column | October 29, 2020
By: Anne W. Semmes
The winning trees are!! A Copper Beech, a Horse Chestnut, a Red Tip Photinia, a Katsura, a Sugar Maple, and a Colorado Spruce! They now wear nameplates as chosen by the Greenwich Tree Conservancy (GTC) in its second year of celebrating the winning entries of Treasured Trees on private properties across town.
But this pandemic year there was no festive Treasured Tree gathering at the Sam Bridge Nursery – instead the GTC principals, including founding chairman Peter Malkin, invited the winning tree owners to share their tree stories virtually. Presiding was GTC President Cheryl Dunson who kicked off with a tree lover’s quote, “Someone is sitting in the shade today, because somebody planted a tree long ago,” with her adding, “Because there were others who also nurtured that tree along the way.”
The six winning tree nurturers were introduced after the Town’s Tree Warden Dr. Gregory Kramer shared his own tree stories. Kramer found his own treasured tree growing up in Manhattan, “a 350-year-old Tulip tree that to this day resides at its current location and is thought to be the oldest living organism in the metropolitan area.” Kramer arrived at his post in Greenwich already with tree connections through Pinetum founder, Colonel Montgomery, “having worked at his property down in Coral Gables [Fla.] and done my research there. I really got a sense of who he was and what he was inspiring to do, and what trees would he be interested in.”
How those six winning trees were chosen was explained by the two tree judges, Sam Bridge, “multiple generation owner of Sam Bridge Nursery and Greenhouses, and John Conte, renown horticulturist and landscaper…both champions of conservation and the environment,” so introduced by Sue Baker, GTC Advisory Board Co-chair.
“We use these various categories,” told Conte, “Size, age, what we call pedigree… the uniqueness of the specific tree, its ornamental value…is the tree well suited for where it is.” Lastly, its history, “and that category has the most points.” Sam Bridge confirmed, “What it really came down to was the story of why that tree is treasured by the person presenting it, and that was the cool part of the whole thing, why you love that tree.”
The great Copper Beech on Field Point Road is familiar to many a passing motorist on their way to Town Hall across the street. For the last 75 of its surely 100 years or more, it has graced the front lawn of the First Lutheran Church and provided shade for Sunday Schoolers shared the Church’s Amy Young. It is also embraced by next door office workers who “feel they’re in a tree house,” she reported. The Rev. Evan Scamman spoke of his appreciation of Frank [Rusty] Parker of Parker Associates LLC (located in that next-door building), “for helping out greatly in the care and maintenance of the tree.”
More praise for the Copper Beech came from neighbor, Peter Malkin. “It’s a wonderful thing every day when we go out, we see that beautiful Copper Beech.” He noted that Rusty Parker is a GTC board member.
The Horse Chestnut is located in Rock Ridge -its owner Kirsten Galef was unable to be present. Her note praised her “special tree” for its “white blossom in the spring, and in the fall the chestnuts provide a feast for our squirrels.” Conti weighed in with, “You can see that tree is like a sculpture, like a fountain frozen in time. It’s just a beautiful tree.”
Riverside residents Wendy and Jim Enelow had entered their winning tree as a Parrotia tree but after some research it was identified as a Red Tip Photinia. “We thank you for honoring our tree and telling us what it is called,” said Wendy Enelow. “We just love this tree because it’s an evergreen and keeps its leaves all year.” Judge Conte added, “This tree just knocked us out when we saw it. It’s more of a southern growing tree. You must have an interesting climate there.”
On Glenville Road resides another less known and winning tree, a Katsura. owned by Mary Shaw and Rob Marks. “We inherited the tree when we bought the house in 1989,” said Marks, “It’s just majestic. We’ve installed some spotlights underneath it…and on a dark night it’s almost as if you have your own heaven above this with the leaves like little stars.”
“At this time of year, it turns a rich yellow,” said Mary Shaw. “And when the sun comes through it’s just a glorious yellow, and then the leaves fall to the ground and make a carpet of yellow.”
“Is this the tree,” asked Malkin of the Tree Warden, “that you are replacing the Copper Beeches we’re losing on Greenwich Common?” “That’s correct,” said Kramer. “It gives you a similar form and grows in a somewhat similar fashion.” He added, “When I was talking before about pedigree, really nothing ranks higher than Katsura.
It’s got great ornamental value in every season.”
A Sugar Maple familiar to many that towers before the offices of the Greenwich Land Trust (GLT) on Round Hill Road was number five of the six winners. Speaking for it was GLT Conservation Outreach Manager, Dan Brubaker. “One of the neat things about it is it gets used every day – it provides shade all summer for our Youth Corps when they’re having lunches. With COVID this summer we’ve had a lot of meetings out there underneath the tree.”
What age might that accommodating Maple Brubaker be he was asked. At least 150 years old was his answer.
Conte agreed, “It’s in its second half of life. Sugar Maples that are 50 years old or so would have a very oval rounded shape. This one has maxed out. It’s just spread out to full height – you really don’t see sugar maples bigger than this.”
Perhaps the most passionate testimony of tree treasuring came with the sixth tree winning Colorado Spruce. Owner Joan Stewart Pratt lives on Mallard Drive in the Milbrook area, where her tall Spruce is said to be seeable from the Post Road across from the Greenwich High School football field. “It used to be our Christmas tree in our living room about 30 years ago,” said Pratt, wearing her Santa hat, “And my late mother and I planted it together.” She cited the significance a spruce tree had in her family – with her mother’s Greek heritage. “The spruce tree according to Greek mythology represents constant eternal life, and was referred to as the tree of birth, and that the scented needles mean resilience and strength. So, during these challenging and uncertain times now more than ever we need to know that resilience, strength and love, is what is important in life.
The Greenwich Tree Conservancy recently heard from a resident whose neighbor was trying to save her private trees from extensive pruning by Eversource. The neighbor did not know what rights she had, and the trees were “butchered”. We often are asked what can be done to protect the tree which shades your property and adds to its esthetic, economic and health value.
When trees are on private property, residents have the right to tell Eversource what is acceptable to them. The best idea is to say you want to be there when they do the work. While Eversource has a guideline to clear ground to sky and 8 feet from the lines (UPZ) as they do in many towns, this is not Greenwich’s policy. Nor can Eversource automatically take the tree down if it is not a public safety issue. They often say it’s a safety issue but they are speaking of safety to their lines, not safety to the public. They do have the right to prune the tree if it is currently interfering with the power lines or will be imminently. Eversource’s contracted tree service is Lewis Tree Service. They should prune in a careful way which they will do if you are present when the work is being done.
If a tree abutting your property is in the Town right-of-way, Eversource must obtain a permit from the Town Tree Warden for pruning or removal by filing a written application and must give 15 days notice to an abutting property owner prior to pruning or removal in the UPZ (Utility Protection Zone) and within the public right-of-way.
The Town Tree Warden must issue a decision 10 days from receiving an abutting property owner objection or request for modification, provided a requested consultation has taken place. The property owner or Eversource may appeal the Town Tree Warden decision to PURA (Public Utilities Regulatory Authority).
The Tree Conservancy has published a brochure, “What Are My Tree Rights Relating to Public Utilities?” that is available at Town Hall or can be viewed on our website www.greenwichtreeconservancy. Don’t feel powerless when confronted with Eversource!
While not currently a full loop yet, this first section will be added on to later in the year. Presently one can start walking the trail where Arch Street and Wesskum Wood Rd intersect. The trail meanders southward as far as the playground and then moves along the bottom of the park over to the stream and spillway on the East side of Binney.
Where the stone-dust trail ends, walkers have the option of either returning the way they came or continuing up along the park road back to Wesskum Wood Road. It is also an option to cross the stream and walk up the grassy area which is where the next section of pathway will eventually be added.
A principal asset the new pathway provides is pedestrian safety. Until now, anyone walking in the South end of Binney, on the West side along Arch Street, either must walk on the grass or on Arch Street itself. The new pedestrian walkway meanders away from the road and skirts the playing fields. Among other features it provides easy access to the restrooms and fenced playground.
Dr. Greg Kramer, Superintendent of Parks and Trees, believes the stone-dust, which is permeable, will be an asset
“It offers an easy walking surface and has proven to be long lasting surface at places like Greenwich Point where a pathway honoring former resident Kit Warren has been in place for some ten plus years,” he said.
The Binney Park Advisory Committee (BPAC), a group of volunteer residents, has been completing improvements in Binney for the last year. They work in conjunction with the Parks Department staff headed Dr. Kramer and Field Supervisor Darrin Wigglesworth. Jonathan Fasone, Binney Park Supervisor, and his group of employees, based in the South end of Binney, has been instrumental in accomplishing many of the projects.
Among the improvements, noted by BPAC co-Chairs, Nancy Chapin and Peter Uhry, have been the restoration of the skating hut on the island in the pond. Last fall, the building was stabilized, a new terrace with benches was constructed and extensive landscaping was accomplished.
Additionally, new plantings have been installed in front of the restrooms near the playing fields in the South end. A new terrace is being considered here when additional Park funds or sufficient donations from residents allow it to be built.
Revised plantings, where Arch Street and Sound Beach Avenue meet, were initiated recently and additional plantings along both sides of the pond in the North end are to be accomplished later in the year. Started last summer, several flower beds and added shrubs were installed following the pond’s dredging.
Nancy Chapin, who in addition to her work on BPAC also serves on the Board of Parks & Recreation commented, “We have an extraordinary committee of a dozen doers. They include local landscape architects Bill Rutherford and Frank O’Gorman, Joanne Messina from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy and Mary Hull from Greenwich Green & Clean.
Peter Uhry has been a longtime supporter of improving Binney and deserves credit for getting this group together. Lynn Davenport, Linnea Stenberg and Lisa Beebe all bring their gardening expertise to the committee. Dr. Greg Kramer and Darrin Wigglesworth have been so supportive and have spurred along our projects allowing us to get a lot done in a short time.”
Nancy noted that, this summer, the BPAC will be seeking volunteers to help establish a Friends of Binney Park and do volunteer work. Resident participation will help achieve future improvements, not only in the Park itself but in the Hillside Annex and Binney Kitchel Nature Preserve which are lesser known sections of the Binney complex.
On Monday night the RTM voted to approve the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development, which was a surprise.
There had been much talk about postponing the vote. In fact, four committees had voted for postponement.
Earlier in the day, RTM Moderator Pro Tempore Alexis Voulgaris said on WGCH, “I think RTM members just want a little bit more time to read into it before they weigh in. …It’s a big item, and we’ll likely put it to the following month.”
Among those advocating for a vote Monday night were LWV president Sandy Waters, past LWV president who is head of the Tree Conservancy JoAnn Messina, Conservation Commission’s Susie Baker, former P&Z chair Louisa Stone and Francia Alvarez, who spoke as a member of the Land Use Committee and as a resident.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said she was pleased with the vote. “My sense is that hearing speaker after speaker explain the virtues of the Plan, the hard work and outreach that went into it, and the desire to move it forward, was ultimately what swayed the majority from voting for postponement,” she said in an email on Tuesday morning.
Indeed outreach was significant, and the lengthy process of public review began back in 2017.
There were workshops, group discussions, and online tools for gathering input. Public workshops included: Community Workshop (January 17, 2018), Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, Downtown & Village Business & Property Owners Workshop (January 18, 2018), Putnam Avenue Business & Property Owners Workshop (January 19, 2018), Community Visioning Workshop (May 17, 2018), Subareas Visioning Workshop (October 4, 2018), Presentation of the draft (September 19, 2019), and a Public Hearing (November 12, 2019).
Also, focus groups included 32 meetings with town boards, commissions and organizations – everyone from Tamar Lurie to the Tree Warden, and from Greenwich Hospital to the Housing Authority. The P&Z Commission publicly noticed 50 other meetings to discuss edits of the POCD draft.
After a motion to postpone failed, the overwhelming majority of RTM members voted in favor.
The vote was 148 in favor, 24 against and 4 abstentions.
The next step is implementing the Plan.
“It was extremely gratifying to have that kind of support for the document,” DeLuca said.
POCD workshop at Greenwich High School. October 4, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager
One of the guiding principles of the POCD is to preserve community character.
After input from a public planning session at Greenwich High School last year, P&Z agreed to work on a landscaping plan for Route 1 and to address signage.
DeLuca noted that the Riverside Association in particular has urged the town to create a “sense of place” on Rte 1 in Riverside.
Liz Peldunas of the Riverside Association has said that community wants the Post Road to reflect a character of place and described Riverside as both “a mutt” and the “poor step child” of Cos Cob and Old Greenwich.
For example, at hearings on a 20 unit building at 1205 East Putnam Ave proposed under the Town’s 6-110 “workforce housing” regulation, Peldunas noted Riverside has a village name and distinct zip code, yet its main drag is Putnam Ave.
P&Z has since put a moratorium on 6-110 applications.
Also, DeLuca said P&Z has had several sessions with the Greenwich Board of Realtors, and as a result the Commission is committed to studying FAR, height, and other building controls so they are simple enough to explain to newcomers and less dependent on professionals.
The POCD also calls for developing a tree preservation ordinance for private property, which has been on the radar of many local environmental groups for years.
A recent 6-110 application for 62 Mason Street, submitted before the moratorium, was case in point.
For the 7-unit building, which will replace an 1890 structure, the applicant had to hire professionals for repeated appearances before P&Z and ARC.
At the same time the application demonstrated the need for a tree preservation ordinance.
Over the objections of the Tree Conservancy, the applicant received permission from the tree Warden to cut down a mature Town-owned Maple tree that is part of the historic streetscape to make room for a wide driveway.
As part of the agreement, the tree warden stipulated a “historically important” Magnolia tree on the property be preserved. However, the applicant’s attorney John Tesei subsequently said the Magnolia was not healthy and needed to be cut down.
The commission ultimately approved the 7-unit building. It includes 2 units of workforce housing.
“This ordinance will be tricky as we must ensure the appropriate balance
between private property rights and the public good,” DeLuca said of a tree ordinance.
The Plan also seeks to develop housing opportunities that include innovative, high-quality, green, “physically accessible to all” options beyond the single family residence.
“We need reasonably priced housing to attract young families who will invest in the community. We need options for our seniors who want to downsize, and we need options for the 60% of the Town employees and the 60% of Board of Education employees who currently live outside of Town,” DeLuca added. “That’s 2,200 employees who could be spending more of their time at work instead of commuting.”
DeLuca said the Plan will also promote “hidden housing” like accessory
apartments and identify illegal apartments.
She said the Plan also addressed the balance between having top quality public and private schools and respecting neighborhoods.
DeLuca noted schools are mostly located in residential neighborhoods, and neighbors have voiced objections to increased traffic and to school expansions.
A proposed 30% FAR in 2018 drew the ire of neighbors of GHS and Greenwich Academy in particular. That proposal was ultimately withdrawn.
In response the POCD has action items that will address traffic, protect privacy, increase buffer space, and add planting requirements between schools and residential neighbors, particularly around parking lots, auditorium spaces, and athletic facilities.
Other guiding principals are to preserve open space, particularly in back country, and to maintain the town’s economic vitality by upgrading zoning regs and streamlining the process of establishing a business in Greenwich.
It also refers to strengthening Downtown as the central business district, exploring a dredge of Greenwich Harbor, creating an art installation, improving lighting in the Steamboat Rd underpass and improving parking downtown by segregating employee parking from consumer parking.
And, finally the Plan talks about providing the best quality infrastructure, municipal facilities, cultural institutions and health services.
In particular, DeLuca said, “the health care industry is one we must keep a close eye on as it is gaining strength to parallel the hedge fund industry in terms of where we can add value.”
And while the POCD focuses on providing more affordable and moderate-income housing in Greenwich, the elephant in the room remained state affordable housing statute 8-30g.
While P&Z imposed a moratorium on the town’s 6-110 workforce housing reg, 8-30g continues to exempt developments from local zoning regulations.
Though the Commission has had some success with using the statute to convert illegal apartments to affordable units, hundreds of residents have turned out to object to large 8-30g proposals including a multi story building on Sound Beach Avenue (After a law suit, a scaled down version was approved as a moderate incomedevelopment rather than 8-30g.) and a proposal for the site of Post Road Iron Works for a 5-story, 355-unit apartment building with two levels of underground parking that was rejected by the Wetlands Agency. (After the applicant appealed in court, Judge Berger denied the appeal.)
While residents expressed dismay with the massive building, which will replace six turn of the century houses with one 30-unit building, the developer could have resubmitted under 8-30g for a significantly bigger development.
First Selectman Fred Camillo, who was until last week a State Rep, has worked on a state level toward a moratorium on 8-30g.
Section 8-23 of the Connecticut General Statutes requires each municipality to adopt a POCD at least once every 10 years.