Tree Spared the Ax

No one can say that Mattapoisett doesn’t try its best to protect and defend trees, especially those that are on town property or public easements. That truth was demonstrated on June 3 when the Mattapoisett Town Hall conference room filled for the continued public hearing of the Form C Definitive Subdivision application filed by Scott Snow. In attendance were members of the Mattapoisett Tree Committee, Tree Warden Roland Cote, and interested townspeople – people who were invested in not only the fate of the proposed project, but the tree in question.

            The project, Eldridge Estates, a five-lot subdivision planned for a large parcel of land off Prospect Road, features a private entrance roadway next to a tree – a very large, very healthy tree that was planted by the town many decades ago in the public easement.

            The project, which has been on and off the agenda of the Mattapoisett Planning Board since July 2018, has gone through much iteration. It has also been the subject of frustration for Chairman Tom Tucker who believed the applicant was unprepared to present a fully fleshed out project. There was also an issue that arose with another project Snow developed that has lain incomplete for a decade. But first, the tree.

            As the board members began to go through a list of waivers presented by Snow’s representative, Richard Rheaume of Prime Engineering, the issue of whether or not the linden tree should be given the ax or left in peace was discussed for more than 30 minutes.

            While the applicant did not include removal of the tree in his plans, as Snow’s earlier concepts kept the tree in place, subsequent study of the roadway layout found the tree in the crosshairs of Highway Superintendent Barry Denham. 

            Denham had suggested that snow removal would be difficult at the entranceway to the subdivision because the tree was in the path of the plow blade. During previous debates on the future of the tree, he argued that although the roadway for the five-lot subdivision was private, history had shown that such roads could become the responsibility of the town. Denham also questioned the width of the roadway, planned at 20-feet, believing it was insufficient for emergency apparatus.

            The board members asked for and received a letter from the Fire Department regarding the tree. Tucker read the letter from Chief Andrew Murray. Murray had taken large fire trucks to the project site and tested the viability of the entranceway. He confirmed that the tree would not impede the equipment if a height clearance of 13.6 feet was maintained at all times.

            Cote and the Tree Committee made the case for leaving the tree in place noting its age, somewhere north of 50 years, and size. Tree Committee Chairman Sandra Hering also pleaded to leave the specimen in place. When the waiver vote was taken for that line item, the tree was spared the ax.

            But that wasn’t the only drama of the night.

            There came a point in the two-hour long meeting when there arose a problem with the plans. It became clear that the board members and the engineer were looking at different documents.  Rheaume had some pages from an earlier set, while the board members were saying they had never received a newer set dated May 30.

            In the absence of Mary Crain, Planning Board administrator, Tucker called a recess while he and board member Arlene Fidalgo attempted to locate plans Rheaume said his office had in fact sent.

            Upon returning, Tucker announced that he had spoken to Crain and learned that the missing plans had not been received in time for the board members to review them prior to the meeting.

            However, Tucker did allow the meeting to continue.

            The board continued to review each of the six waivers requested, such as exempting the need for a separate utilities plan, accepting the 20-foot roadway, and other matters related to the layout of the private road and drainage system. Tucker said of the waivers, “Let’s finish waivers, everything’s looking better now.” He also told Rheaume that the hearing would have to be continued, “Two more weeks isn’t going to kill anyone.”

            At the urging of board member Janice Robbins, the issues of surety, bond versus land, and all things related to ensuring that the project is completed was discussed.

            A fly in the ointment for Snow seemed to be buzzing in from another project, one that has gone incomplete for a decade – Ocean Breeze.

            Later in the evening, Tucker commented that he had wanted to bring up this problematic subdivision, but had been advised to consider Eldridge Estates on its own merits without consideration of other matters. When asked about the status of the incomplete roadway at that earlier project, Snow said he was holding checks. It was later learned those were to pay for the top coat on the Ocean Breeze roadway, and that work would be completed in a few days. Snow said that issues with FEMA had caused the 10-year long delay.

            Robbins thought, for the project now before the board, a performance bond would be beneficial. Rheaume wanted the board to consider holding lots versus a cash surety.

            That matter will be taken up when the applicant returns to the Planning Board on June 17 with a final set of plans. Tucker remarked after the applicant had left the room, “They’ll forget something.”

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Planning Board is scheduled for June 17 at 7:00pm in the Town Hall conference room.

Mattapoisett Planning Board

By Marilou Newell

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