Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019Request for honey locust tied to driveway expansion.

The Select Board at its Sept. 12 meeting unanimously agreed to table a request by homeowners Rob and Eileen Gainfort to remove a honey locust tree near their 261 Hillside Ave. property, to widen their driveway. This decision enables Arlington’s building inspector time to confirm whether any driveway changes need the Zoning Board of Appeals’ approval. 

The Gainforts disagree with Arlington Tree Warden Tim Lecuivre, who objects to the removal of the 18-inch tree.

In a letter to the Select Board, the Gainforts wrote, “The tree releases its seed pods . . . and causes massive damage to our drains and gutters, and those of our neighbors. The roots have also damaged our clay sewer lines that drain from our under-house garage. These two factors have caused flooding into our garage and basement during heavy rainfall.”

The letter also requests removal of the tree to enable the Gainforts to widen their driveway to accommodate their need for additional parking. 

The property is not far from St. Paul's Lutheran Church and Route 2.

Tree warden's email

In an email to Ashley Maher, Select Board office manager, Lecuivre wrote Aug. 26, “Removing mature native public shade[,] trees which are public assets to expand driveways[,] is not advantageous for Arlington,” and that this “will set the wrong precedent to all in town, and set back years of hard work educating folks on how to work with and around trees.”

At the meeting, Lecuivre said, “The Gainforts say the tree is causing damage, clogging gutters and dropping seed pods. We pruned the tree this past May, removed deadwood and tried to mitigate any damage. Tree roots cannot enter solid objects, such as sewer pipes.

“My recommendation is to move the underground pipes. It’s best to keep the largest tree — it absorbs the most storm-water runoff, produces the most carbon dioxide and shade, and lowers noise, light pollution and utility bills. It takes years for trees to grow.

“If the board permits this tree to be removed, it needn’t be replaced by just one 18-inch tree. Most shade trees purchased in a nursery are typically two to three inches, so it can be a combination of multiple trees. This is a corner lot, so hypothetically three 2-inch trees can be planted on George Street, and another 3-inch on Hillside Avenue. We try to do our best to replenish the canopy. We don’t have a finalized plan yet; we’re still working on it.” The numbers refer to diameters.

'We are tree people'

Rob Gainfort said, “The tree is wonderful. We are tree people; it’s just that we’re expanding our company, and our daughter is learning to drive. We would love a canopy. It is lacking, now that the trees have been removed from the private property next to us. If you take out this one tree, we’ll be happy to do whatever is appropriate and pay into the tree fund to make up for that.” 

Board member Steve DeCourcey explained, “There are no standards in the bylaws. That’s what makes this difficult for municipalities. We don’t want to cut down trees, but this tree has seeds. So there’s a conflict here.” 

Board member John Hurd added, “We’ve had situations where private homeowners were allowed the removal of a tree over the objection of the tree warden, such as a homeowner who had a son fearful that a tree would come through his window.”

Read all of the documents for this agenda item >> 

Comments at public hearing

During the meeting’s public-hearing session, several residents expressed their views:

Keith Schnebly, Arlington Tree Committee member, but speaking as a private citizen: “We’ve lost a tremendous amount of canopy in the 30 years I’ve lived here. Even 15-year trees are nowhere near the size of that honey locust. It takes years to develop large trees.” 

Mara Vatz, also a Tree Committee member: “It’s not clear that this property has enough room for replacement trees. The other side of Hillside Avenue has power lines that would reduce where trees can be placed. The town doesn’t currently have the resources to water trees planted in the fall and spring. Will the town be responsible for taking care of new trees? Many new trees are not surviving.”

Susan Stamps, Precinct 3 Town Meeting member and a Tree Committee member: “With the Select Board negotiating with the homeowner on the removal of a public tree, it seems they’re not treating public trees as the asset they are. Public trees are owned by the citizens of the town.”

Steve Moore, Tree Committee member: “Removing this shade tree sets a bad precedent, and there’s no valid reason to remove it. This tree is established and has survived.” 

Don Seltzer, a resident: “The ZBA is unlikely to grant a second driveway, which would be unsightly. This board shouldn’t even consider removing this tree until the ZBA establishes where a second driveway can be built.”

Private-way Governor Road improvements approved

In other business, the board unanimously approved to assess betterments for Governor Road, a private way, off Hemlock, near the Stratton School.

Resident Sheila Connerney said, “I’m asking to have repairs done for our private way. We found a contractor, and are just waiting for the town to say we can go ahead with the project.”

Board member John Hurd said, “It’s nice to see unanimous approval; the road must be in tough shape.”

Read the documents for this agenda item >>  

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. 

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