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Developer defends cutting down Hendries oak tree

Posted by Johanna Seltz  March 9, 2011 03:55 PM

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milton oak tree file photo.jpgThe giant oak tree may have been the oldest tree in Milton. (George Rizer/Globe Staff/File 2006)

The Hendries oak is no more.

Connelly Construction, which wants to develop the old Hendries Ice Cream factory site on Eliot Street, had the 202-year-old tree removed today – much to the surprise of local officials who had hoped to save it.

“I was very surprised,” said Planning Board chairman Alexander Whiteside. “I’m disappointed, I’m discouraged, I’m dissatisfied.”

But developer Stephen Connelly, who had maintained that the tree wouldn’t survive any construction at the site and posed a danger to pedestrians, said he was vindicated by the condition of the old oak.

“The worker [manning the chain saw] told me his chain saw buzzed through that thing like a knife through butter,” Connelly said. “He told me it was ridiculous how easy it was. So I think people will back off because it was a rotted tree and nobody has any interest in saving something that might hurt somebody.”

Connelly had relied on the opinions of two arborists, who advised him the tree was a hazard.

An arborist chosen by the town Planning Board came up with a different conclusion, however, saying that the 50-foot oak tree needed major pruning but was healthy.

The fate of the tree had held up development, as the Planning Board weighed whether to give the Dorchester developer a special permit to raze the long-vacant ice cream factory and put up a multi-story building with condominiums, commercial space and parking underneath.

Planning rules allowed the developer to put up a 15 percent larger building, if he made efforts to save the tree, if feasible. It’s unclear what happens next with the project, which still needs town approval.

Whiteside said Connelly is no longer entitled to the “15 percent bonus” and would have to bring in a smaller design. Whiteside also said that by cutting down the tree, Connelly had “subverted the process.”

“This development is not a matter of right,” Whiteside added. “It’s a matter of discretion of the Planning Board, which has to determine if it’s in the public interest. There are standards he has to meet, which basically require that the public be happy with what he is doing.

“I don’t think the public is happy with what he’s done. I was down there this morning and all the members of the public I talked to were horrified,” Whiteside said.

Connelly said he expected the public attitude to change when they see pictures showing the extensive rot inside the tree’s trunk.

“At some point you have to do what’s right -- regardless of the [effect on a] building,” Connelly said. “My gut was that was an unhealthy tree and a hazard. Now that it’s down and people can see it, I think we should get back on track.”

The Planning Board is scheduled to take up Connelly’s proposal at its March 24 meeting.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.

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