LETTER: Watertown Group Concerned About Loss of Trees on Private Properties

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Dear fellow Watertown citizens:

The recent removal of multiple mature trees on Olcott Street raises significant issues about the proper balance of public and private interests here in Watertown. While a private landowner has a right to dispose of trees as they see fit, Watertown must recognize that the benefits of mature trees extend beyond the lot they sit on and are an asset to the community as a whole.

Watertown is expending considerable resources to combat climate change and improve the community’s quality of life. Major investments have been made in street trees and in enhanced storm drainage systems designed to protect the city from climate-related extreme storms. Yet these efforts cannot succeed if they are at odds with actions on private land where 80 percent of the city’s tree canopy sits.

The rights of private landowners are fundamental to our system. However, we also recognize through our zoning codes and other provisions that those rights are not absolute; we use setback requirements to preserve equity between neighbors and health codes to ensure that decisions of individual homeowners do not threaten the well being of the community as a whole. When a landowner can remove multiple mature trees without any process or debate, it changes the character of a neighborhood just as much or more than building a home in violation of setback
provisions. Our neighboring communities address these situations with solutions ranging from provisions encouraging public dialogue on proposed tree removals to ordinances. These
approaches are worthy of study as we seek a solution that fits Watertown’s unique needs.

In the meanwhile we ask that you join us in urging our city government to fully consider the loss of mature trees and the climate and quality of life benefits they bring as proposed development is reviewed. With such an approach our city’s decisions will benefit not just the landowner, but the community as a whole.

Happy Holidays to all from Trees for Watertown!

Submitted by Libby Shaw, President of Trees for Watertown

9 thoughts on “LETTER: Watertown Group Concerned About Loss of Trees on Private Properties

  1. I have been wondering if others have noticed this as much as I have. Just in my neighborhood I feel like a dozen trees have been taken down in the last 9-12 months. We have strict town rules on driveways but nothing about tree removal. I am not a tree hugger, but I see the value of this being discussed further. Being a home owner with 2 mature maples on my property, I couldn’t imagine my land w/o them!

  2. Do all these homeowners complaining realize that there house lot once use to be full of trees too? Everyone should have the right do what they want to their own land.

  3. Mature trees that were planted when the street was developed are causing problems; especially if they are sick and dying. There is a mature tree to the left of driveway that roots have caused cracks and bumps and pot holes. Also the large branches drop when there is a windy storm. In fact the tree dropped a big branch on the roof of my 6 months new car. At this time there is a broken branch that is hanging onto another branch and the next time we have high winds that branch to fall.
    So each tree needs to be looked at completely before it can be labeled to not cut down. Some of the mature trees here in Watertown need to be taken down for safety to the citizens of the town.

  4. This is complete nonsense. A home owner has ever right to do as he or she sees fit in managing their own property. If they want to remove a tree and it’s on their property then so be it. The town has no legal authority to stop it.

  5. Hello All,

    The removal of trees and green space is happening all over Watertown. The O’Connell field will lose more trees and a significant amount of green space if the proposal is approved by the School Building Committee. Why? To add a prefab building for bathrooms and storage on the field instead of allowing the use of the school. Dugouts, bleachers, another storage unit, batting cage, bleachers, scoreboard, and walkway.

    Please voice your concerns about the loss of trees and green space to your Town Council!

  6. I also love mature trees. However when these mature trees snap and you have huge limbs falling on an owner’s or neighboring roofs, fences, and property, damaging them and causing thousands of dollars of damage with every ice storm, wind storm, or any other storm, the responsible thing sometimes is to remove them. Homeowners should not have to be debate cutting down a tree on one’s own property when the tree causes constant and major concern. Let’s give homeowners a bit of the benefit of the doubt.

    • Hi Corrine

      I agree homeowners should have the rights to manage their own property. The Town should protect our common areas and residents should have a voice to protect our environment.

  7. Until recently, trees have been considered merely things of beauty, but not of any special use to the community other than what meets the eye. With awareness of climate change, trees have been recognized as being part of the larger “tree canopy” which provides considerable health and other non-visual benefits to the welfare of the community. With this new perspective on trees, Libby Shaw is suggesting that the tree canopy be taken into account, in a reasonable way, by town regulations. Thank you, Libby.

  8. It is and should remain the right of homeowners to determine if a tree or trees remain on their property. Many of the older trees are becoming problems as they are dropping limbs and are not healthy. I recently had one removed as it was just getting way too high for the size of the yard and I had a fear that if it fell, it would do serious damage to the house. When the tree was removed, it was determined that it was full of water and it was only a matter of time before it was going to come down in a wind storm. If I hadn’t made that decision, I would probably be rushing to find an emergency service to take the rest of the tree down and a crew to repair my house, which is not an easy task these days. We need to stop trying to remove rights from individuals, even if they are for a supposedly good cause. The town has a program to help provide trees for homeowners’ front yards. I have seen some people take advantage of this program if they have a large enough front yard, which in Watertown is a problem for many. Trees are truly a benefit to the environment, but they have to be in the right places and we don’t need tree-Nazis controlling the situation.

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