On Monday afternoon the Tree Warden, Dr. Greg Kramer announced he approved the chopping of two 16″ Honey Locust trees.
“Having closely listed to the explanations as to why the two Honey Locust trees will need to be removed and understanding the process by which the remediation of the contaminated soil transpires, as Tree Warden it is my decision and have concluded that the two trees are approved for removal,” Kramer said.
However, the tree warden said that having heard prior and current concerns from residents and the Greenwich Tree Conservancy of the continuing loss of trees on the campus, he will require that four new Willow Oak (Quecus phellos) trees of no less than 3″ caliper be replanted on the Greenwich High School campus…[continued]
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.
MEMO TO P&Z COMMISSION, TOWN TREE WARDEN
FROM: Diane Fox, Director Planning and Zoning/Town Planner/Zoning Enforcement Coordinator
DATE: June 3, 2011
After discussion with Bruce Spaman, Town Tree Warden, on the current processes of the timing of public hearings of tree removal on Town properties and reviewing the Public Hearings held by the Town Tree Warden on the North Mianus School site, the North Street School site and the High School Auditorium projects, he and I are proposing the following new procedures which we hope will aid the public in knowing earlier in the process about tree removals on Town properties for projects while reducing time and money for town projects.
Based on the experience of the appeals taken by the public on the three recent projects referred to above, Bruce and I have agreed upon the following:
Presently when a town project comes to P&Z as a preliminary site plan, it is routed to the Town Tree Warden for his comments. This will continue.
When and if the Commission gives consent to allow the applicant to proceed to final site plan, the Town Tree Warden will then post the trees that will need to be removed on and off site so that the public and neighbors can have an early opportunity to see what will be removed and if they desire to file an appeal or request that the Town Tree Warden hold a public hearing on these trees’ removal.
The Public hearing on tree removal is held by the Town Tree Warden, and if any trees posted for removal are to remain on site, the final site plan submitted will reflect any site plan changes resulting from this decision. These final plans may require IWWCA re-review or not.
Applicant/Town Dept. will submit final site plans to P&Z reflecting the Town Tree Warden’s decision after the 10 day appeal period (of the Tree Warden’s decision) is over.
This procedural change should make the process more transparent, allows the public earlier knowledge of both the project and tree removal, and saves time and money for the submitting town department or agency.
It was noted that the need for this change in the process was not evident in the past, but has become more of an issue within the past few years when town trees are proposed for removal when both town and private projects are submitted, ie. Greenwich Ave project at 410 Greenwich Ave.
It is our hope that the public and town bodies will see this as a positive response to the recent events and we are certainly open to discussion on this issue in public at any time.
NOTICE OF FINAL DECISION OF THE TREE WARDEN REGARDING 121 TREES POSTED FOR REMOVAL FOR THE GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL AUDITORIUM AND MUSIC INSTRUCTION SPACE ADDITION
A public hearing was held on Tuesday May 24, 2011 at 12:00 for 121 trees posted for removal on the campus grounds of Greenwich High School (GHS) for the Greenwich High School Auditorium and Music Instruction Space Addition (MISA) project. As required by Chapter 451, Section 23-59 of the Connecticut General Statutes, a public hearing was called because I had received an appeal objecting to the removal of these trees within ten days of their posting. The 121 trees were generally located on the east and west sides of the high school building with concentrations of trees proposed for removal in or adjacent to the North and South Parking Lots.
The tree diameters range from 4 inches to 32 inches. The tree species and number of trees posted are listed below. Tree heights were estimated to be upwards to 80 – 90 feet. Tree removals in four naturally vegetated areas amounts to clearcutting nearly an acre of trees and other vegetation.
Numerous votes and approvals were required from Municipal boards, commissions and agencies for this proposed project to progress. Those included the Board of Education, Board of Selectmen, the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency, the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting. The project achieved all of the necessary approvals. The RTM vote was greater than a 2:1 approval (134-60-8).