Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

Tree roots are the reason the bricks no longer provide an adequate walking surface.

UPDATED, Sept. 23: Nine trees connected to the reconstruction and renovation of Broadway Plaza will be removed, as unanimously approved by the Select Board, despite objections from some residents.

“Through the design of the project, it’s clear that the sidewalk bricks are failing, causing mobility issues for pedestrians,” said Michael Rademacher, director of public works, at the board's Sept. 20 meeting. Tree roots at the plaza’s surface are the reason the bricks no longer provide an adequate walking surface. As soon as we remove the bricks, we’ll be unearthing roots, which will seriously damage the trees, which already have extensive damage.

“Not planting new trees now will severely impact our ability to plant trees in the future. In order to get a nicer downtown plaza than what we have today, I’m requesting that these trees be removed.

“The construction we’re proposing is a more modern approach to tree planting. We’ll supplement the soil, to provide for healthy roots in an urban environment, that we’ve used already in town with great success. It will be more successful than the trees today.

“The new trees will stay away from the adjacent buildings, yet provide a significant canopy within 10 to 12 years. If the trees are not replaced, due to their current stress, it would likely put them over the top. 

“We met with the town’s tree warden. Building an ADA-compliant surface didn’t lead to any revelation on saving any of these trees. The stress level of these trees are showing, and it doesn’t make it conducive to save them.

“The MWRA [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority] will begin their construction project next spring, and assume three-fourths of the costs.”

In a Sept. 23 email responding to YourArlington, Rademacher writes, "The cost to restore the plaza is approximately $350K. There will be associated costs for police details as well. The MWRA and the town are sharing in the funding; the MWRA is responsible for 70 percent, Arlington's share is 30 percent."

Select Board comments

Board member Eric Helmuth said, “Leaving mature trees is a good default position because of the shade canopy. However, we cannot have a practical discussion unless you make the discussion in the scope of this specific project.

'We shouldn’t automatically keep trees when it causes them to be unhealthy in the long run. We need to think long term, longer than 10 years, about this from the carbon point of view. New trees that go in the same place is a bad position. We have an opportunity to change that substrate for a long-term future, which will allow new trees that go in to thrive.”

Board member John Hurd said: “We don’t take this issue lightly, and take town trees only when absolutely necessary. This is the right move for the board at this time. No one likes to approve the removal of mature trees, but given the scope of this project and health of the trees, this feels like the best option. We’re being forward thinking, and are planting more trees than we’re taking down.”

Public comments

Several town residents expressed their opposition to the tree removal:

Jo Anne Preston, Precinct 9 meeting member: “Precinct 9 encompasses Broadway Plaza. Can an alternative to taking down nine mature healthy trees be explored? Arlington is already in the midst of climate change, and the carbon removed from these mature trees is critically important in slowing down climate change. The new canopy won’t occur for two decades. Scientists say that even one decade is too late.”

Beth Melofchik, Precinct 9 meeting member: “I hope that the town leadership and DPW will heartily acknowledge code red, and the concern that the U.N. has expressed in their climate change report. I ask that these mature trees be preserved. We have heat islands adjacent to Broadway Plaza, and their removal will make this place even hotter.” 

Resident Robin Bergman: “The tree canopy is important. The situation is dire with code red, and we need our mature trees.”

Susan Stamps, Precinct 3 meeting member and tree committee member: “No one on the tree committee thinks that removing nine healthy mature trees in the age of climate change is OK. The plaza is already a hot place, and businesses will lose business in the summer. 

“The tree committee loves the idea of resurfacing the plaza, because it’s not currently ADA-compliant. However, that doesn’t mean that those trees have to be removed; something else can be done to mitigate those bumps, such as planting flowers around them so people don’t trip on them.” 

However, Steve Revilak, Precinct 1 meeting member, is supported the Select Board’s decision: “The claim that preserving trees to mitigate climate change isn’t realistic. We need to reduce emissions from buildings and vehicles. Replacing a few trees on Broadway Plaza won’t make a significant change. Broadway Plaza is long overdue for improvements.”

See the entire Sept. 20 broadcast on ACMi:

Memo, detail for Broadway Plaza tree hearing

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Susan Gilbert on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, and updated Sept. 23, to add comment from Rademacher and ACMi video window.