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Neighbors rally to save century-old Thomas Park elm

Posted by Patrick Rosso  May 9, 2013 01:54 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)


The tree in question to the left.

Some residents in South Boston are up in arms about the possible removal of a 150-year-old tree deemed to be in declining health.

At a meeting Thursday sponsored by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, a handful of residents questioned the city’s methods for determining a tree’s health and their motivations to take it down.

The English elm, located on a public sidewalk, was inspected by the city’s tree warden after a request by the owners of 61 Thomas Park to make curb cuts for a driveway on the property.

The tree was found to be dying and leaning over the street, according to a report by Greg Mosman, the tree warden.

Although the warden doesn’t have the final say in the curb-cut process, he is in charge of evaluating possible outcomes of the work in relation to surrounding trees.

The tree was found to be a “high-risk” danger to surrounding property and power lines, Mosman said.

“We try to look at trees objectively with a focus on keeping trees,” he said.

Mosman said the elm had large wounds at its base, large dead branches at the top, and an unhealthy root system.

“Any one of these factors wouldn’t lead me to make this recommendation [to remove the tree],” said Mosman. “But with everything together it’s a no-brainer.”

Often when a healthy tree is requested to be removed or has to be to make way for curb cuts, the proponent is required to replace the total cost of the tree. The Thomas Park tree was estimated to be worth more than $12,000, Mosman reported.

The proponents in the Thomas Park case, however, will not be required to pay the cost of replacing the tree, if approved for the curb cut, because it is in poor health.

Even if the request for the curb cut is denied, the tree and the safety of nearby residents iare still an issue now that an inspection has been done and the city is aware of the tree’s health.

“By the findings of the inspection we’re at the point of removal,” said Bernie Lynch, director of maintenance for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the city’s trees.

Of the seven residents in attendance, many said not only is the possible removal of the tree unfair, but that the driveway the curb cuts are meant for is illegal.

“From the initial inquiries we made there was never a permit drawn to build a driveway,” said Joseph Gregory, an attorney representing residents opposed to the curb cuts and tree removal.

If a curb cut is allowed at least one on-street parking space will be lost.

Even if the driveway is determined to have been illegally constructed it doesn’t change the condition of the tree. The legality of the driveway also isn’t something the warden or the Boston Parks and Recreation Department has control over or is a factor in determining the impact of curb cuts to a tree.

Residents still, however, were opposed to the removal of the tree, citing the already dismal tree cover in South Boston.

“If you look at that tree it looks healthy,” said Patrick King, a resident of 56 Thomas Pk. “I look at this tree and I see the rot, but my guess would be that if taken care of it would out live the people in this room.”

Others said the tree’s health, especially its leaning over the street, isn’t that much different than other trees in the community.

“That lean factor is applicable to about 50-percent of the trees around there,” said Kate Brown, a resident at 56 Thomas Park. “This doesn’t make sense.”

Lynch said he will continue to discuss the process with concerned residents and crews won’t be out at the site anytime soon to remove the tree.

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)


The “illegal” driveway at 61 Thomas Pk.


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Email Patrick D. Rosso, patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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