Friday, December 14, 2001
Planning board to rule on tree cutting remedy
"It's not our job to act as a court hearing," said chair John Ballantine as the selectmen tried to sort through the "different perspectives" and possible remedies for the illegal tree cutting at the intersection of River and Bedford Roads. Two weeks ago property owner Joseph Campagna cut down a number of trees within the town's right of way on Bedford Road (Route 225) and in the area along River Road protected by the scenic roads bylaw. After hearing heated objections from several abutters and reviewing Campagna's plan to remedy the landscape, the selectmen, at their meeting on Wednesday night, directed Campagna to the planning board, which has jurisdiction over scenic roads.
Requests to stop the cutting
On the day of the cutting incident, and subsequently, numerous town officials including selectmen Ballantine and Vivian Chaput, conservation commission administrator Sylvia Willard, superintendent of public works and tree warden Gary Davis, town administrator Madonna McKenzie, and police officers, had visited the property attempting to determine the location of the property lines, and several had asked him and the contractor to stop the cutting. According to Ballantine, eventually agreement was reached that at least some of the "significant" trees cut should not have been taken down without permission of the planning board and possibly also the selectmen. Several town officials, including Chaput and Davis, had then met with Campagna, and asked him to propose a plan to the selectmen to remedy the damage, to "achieve screening" and replace the "canopy that was destroyed."
'Straggly' trees cut
In oral and written statements to the selectmen Campagna said he had no "malicious intent" in cutting down the trees. "I honestly believed I was doing the town a service by beautifying the roadway," continues his written statement, which he asked the selectmen not to share with the public.
The trees cut were 27 "straggly white pines . . . from 2 inches to 8 inches in diameter" and "3 straggly oak trees . . . all less than 5 inches in diameter," growing under tall pines and stretching over the road," Campagna stated. The trees provided very little canopy or screening of the property, he added.
He presented the selectmen with a remedy proposed by landscape planner Rich Morgan of New England Nurseries in Bedford who, Campagna reported, had told him it would be "foolish" and "silly" to try to plant trees on the cleared land. Instead, he proposed a "mix of shrubs and small trees," including viburnum, lilac, privet, forsythia, cletra, rosa rugosa, witch hazel and berberris. The foliage and flowers would be "scenic" and would provide dense screening along the roadway, Campagna added.
Selectman Doug Stevenson questioned the process for protection of scenic roads. According to planning board member Louise Hara and Chaput, a former planning board chair, the planning board has jurisdiction over stone walls, trees and the location of curb cuts, to assure the roads remain scenic. It is appropriate for the planning board to review Campagna's proposal for shrubbery, which is "different from what was there," and they may choose to add to or amend the plan before granting permission, Chaput added.
No jurisdiction over curb cuts
Campagna also asked the board of selectmen to allow him to continue preparing curb cuts to allow the construction of the barn to continue. The planning board has jurisdiction over curb cuts, not the board of selectmen, Ballantine told him. According to the bylaw all that is required is to notify the department of public works, Campagna replied. Town administrator Madonna McKenzie promised to look into whether this was true for Bedford Road.
Though he has a permit for the horse barn itself, Chaput cautioned Campagna against moving forward with the building before obtaining permits to conduct the business he planned. "I am concerned you may be expending time, energy and money . . . that you are at risk [of not being able to use the barn as intended] by continuing," she said.
"The builders have to be paid ... I can't stop the process of building a barn," Campagna said. "No one in this room has the right to tell me I can't build it." McKenzie, Ballantine and Chaput reviewed again the steps and hearings and requirements that would have to be met to obtain the necessary approvals to use the barn commercially. The selectman also asked that survey markers be flagged, to make clear to all who must examine the property during the approval process to come where the property lines are.
Compliments and complaints
Campagna said he has received "numerous" calls of support from neighbors and passers-by since the trees were removed. However, other citizens were skeptical. Don Allen of Pilgrim Path expressed concern that a "systemic issue" was being overlooked: that "irreparable damage was done" even though "valid" questions had been raised at the time about whether the property owner had the right to cut down the trees. Allen called this "shooting first and asking questions later." Even though the police were in an "untenable position" (not knowing where the lot lines were), there should have been a means to hold up the cutting of "mature trees" while questions are answered, he suggested.
Ultimately the police can't do much, Stevenson replied. It would have been "nice if, when told by someone knowledgeable [they were cutting town trees], they had stopped, but they chose not to."
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito