LETTER: Westside Resident Upset by Loss of Trees on Recently Sold Property

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Linda Scott Stumps remaining after several trees were taken down at a property on Olcott Street.

An Open Letter to the Watertown Planning and Zoning Boards:

There’s a war on trees on Olcott Street. On a one block street where the only major street tree is dying, it was a terrible shock to me and my neighbors when we returned home from our work and chores to find that a developer who bought 45-47 Olcott St., had, in one day, chopped down at least five trees on this private lot … five mature trees that were homes and roosts for wildlife; provided shade on those extremely hot days that have become so prevalent; provided privacy, a commodity hard to come by in this dense neighborhood; and served as a sound buffer for traffic and neighborhood noises.

The trees that remained were “pruned” to within inches of their lives. Trees which, in short, made Olcott Street a much more pleasant and livable place were felled without any thought for how this would Impact this neighborhood.

Five trees in a densely packed one block area … what’s the environmental impact of that on a small neighborhood? Frequently we talk about a “green Watertown,” but are we really serious about it? Who wins when profits get in the way? Hardly ever the “green.”

45-47 Olcott St. before.

Am I angry at the developers? Not really. Their job is to maximize profit on their projects, not to watch out for t he welfare of Watertown neighborhoods and their citizens. No, that’s not their job … that’s yours!

45-47 Olcott St. after.

My neighbors and I will be watching as plans develop on this land, and I hope that the town will be as well and encouraging this developer to be a more responsible corporate citizen and more responsive than he’s been thus far to this neighborhood’s needs. If by some chance you think that I am exaggerating the situation, I invite you to drive by the property. It’ll be easy to spot.

It’s the property that looks like it’s been bombed.

As a final note, after the shock of this assault on my neighborhood wore off, I became interested in what kind of business could find this practice acceptable. So I drove to the address of note for the developer’s business.

I found it surprising that this one property looks to have as many trees on it as all of Olcott Street properties combined! It would seem that the developer does value trees, just not for Watertown.

Linda Scott
Olcott Street resident

8 thoughts on “LETTER: Westside Resident Upset by Loss of Trees on Recently Sold Property

  1. Once again, a developer has razed a grove of mature healthy trees on a property in Watertown, negatively impacting the whole neighborhood. Thank you, Linda Scott, for so eloquently laying out what your neighborhood has lost.

    Doesn’t a developer have a right to make a profit? Sure. And might this developer plant a new tree or two after they’ve extracted as much profit as they can from this lot? That would be advisable, since trees would likely make the property more attractive to the kind of client who can afford the home/s this developer is building.

    But what does it take to replace all the community and environmental benefits that, say, a forty-year-old healthy shade tree is providing today? Let alone all the synergistic benefits that a grove of such trees provides? It takes new trees plus forty years.

    The big urban shade trees we have today, that developers are taking down all over town in order to maximize profit, play an outsize protective role in mitigating the ever-increasing heat island effect that increasing summer temperatures are bringing to our city — and in absorbing storm water runoff too.

    Watertown should be prioritizing the establishment of policies that recognize and protect the value of existing healthy shade trees in Watertown, wherever they are.

    • I used to see “Tree Hearing” signs posted on trees that were under threat of coming down. I don’t recall having seen any of those for a while. If I remember corectly those were probably on “street trees” that were public property. Is there no similar provision for oversight on trees when a landowner decides to put new construction on private property? For example, aren’t building permits required, which presumably require compliance with zoning regulations and building standards (e.g., percentage of the lot that can legally be covered by construction)? What Town agency is required to give approval to plans to demolish and rebuild on a parcel? Shouldn’t that agency also be inquiring about plans for the trees on the site?

  2. Hello I’m Mariah I’ve been a resident on Olcott street for 13 years coming on to the 14th. I am appalled that the property owner had the nerve to come here and stick their fat nose where it didn’t belong and cut down 5, 100 year old+ Trees. I think as a community we should stop things like this from happening and let the property owner know that they are not wanted here. If he takes another move to alter the well-being of our community then residents of both Olcott and Gilbert street should come together to a semi-formal discussion. Goodnight.

  3. Dear Linda, this is so very distressing. We are very saddened to hear this news. I agree—The West Side of Watertown has nearly no trees. It’s frightening to see such a dramatic loss in one day. I really wonder when Watertown’s Planning Board will start listening. I know of so many people who share your concern. It seems the trees always come last here. People speak up all the time to desperately try to save the last remaining green spots in town, when they even hear if the meetings…but the public comments are basically rushed or shut down fast so that the developers can take the floor. It really doesn’t seem like our voices matter when it comes to planning board decisions. ;( It’s really sad. These events sometimes make me wish I could move my family to a more progressive town/city that cares about these things —a town that truly considers the effect of such decisions on the residents —and the planet. Watertown is a far cry from Newton, Cambridge and Brookline in that respect … it’s really really disheartening. I want my kids to grow up in a tree filled neighborhood. Looks like that’s not the case. You basically lost a precious little forest today. I’m so sorry. This is so very horrific. Please:, planning board!! — hear our outcry! Stop destroying mature trees for profit. We are not okay with it.

  4. Thank you so much for your kind, supportive words. I met a wonderful young neighbor when he rang my doorbell last night, concerned that I was okay. He told me that there were some vile things being said about me and trees on Facebook. (I am not on Facebook). He was so sweet and concerned, just the kind of neighbor I would hope to have. This kind of issue can bring out both the bad and the good in people, I guess.

    I’m pretty thick skinned so I can take comments, but trash talk about trees??? Isn’t that like trash talking babies and kittens? Oh well, it takes all kinds.

    I wouldn’t give up on the planning board quite yet. I was informed that the Town’s Inspectional Services went to 45-47 just to check out the situation. Apparently, this builder only took out a permit to replace 4 windows, not gut, rewire and rebuild the house. They’ve shut down all work for now.

    I saw another neighbor who said that her mother had a long talk with the builder just after he bought the house, and he swore to her that he was going to use all of that space for a nice, big lawn. Boy, he must have spent at least $10,000 to remove those trees (the count is now 8 trees, by the way). He must be really committed to lawns…we’ll see. Next planning board meeting is January 12th.

  5. Olcott isn’t the only street being dedicated. Several hundred year old trees were cut down on Chapman Street over the past four years. I’ve noticed there is less birdsong, less shade, and the effect on the neighborhood’s appeal is startling. It looks trashy and sad. They are creating a geat island here with nothing but buildings and pavement. It’s bad for the environment and makes the neighborhood much less appealing. Ugly, in fact.

    • Reminds me of the 70s song paved paradise and put in a parking lot .I grew up on hersom st moved to Plymouth in 1997 best move can’t believe how much Watertown has changed.

  6. The city is just as much to blame as the contractor. The city of Watertown allows contractors who build townhomes to build closer to property lines than single family homes. Illegal basement apartments are still being built in designated single family zones, there is one under way as we speak on Chapman st. Zoning enforcement in the city of Watertown needs better enforcement.

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