Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sophie's Choice

Pin Oak marked for death

If nothing changes over the next few weeks Alan Snow -- recently voted "Tree Warden of the year" by the Massachusetts Tree Wardens & Foresters Association -- will sign a death warrant for one of the majestic, towering, healthy pin oak's that has stood guard over Kellogg Avenue for 113 years.

Even when the Shade Tree Committee votes to save the tree, the tree warden can overrule them.  And even if he agrees to their recommendation of mercy, the final authority rests with the Amherst Select Board.

Click to read (and then show up)

Dr. George Stone, Professor of Botany at Massachusetts Agricultural College, Amherst (now know to all as UMass/Amherst) and our town's very first tree warden and founder of the Massachusetts Tree Wardens & Foresters Association planted them with his very own hands, only a few years before he died.

That rumbling sound you will hear next month will be Dr. Stone rolling over in his grave (or his ghost chasing Mr. Snow with a chain saw).

Like most targeted tree strikes the big beautiful oak is in the right place at the wrong time, standing in a spot the Unitarian Universalist Society wishes to occupy with an expansion of their downtown church.

Yes the same church that is requesting $106,250 from Amherst Town Meeting next month in Community Preservation Act Historical Preservations funds to restore their equally beautiful Tiffany stained glass window, "The Angel of the Lilies."

According to their CPA proposal (which the town committee unanimously approved): "An addition on the east side of the meetinghouse and upgrades to the existing structure are to commence in May 2013. Because the Angel of the Lilies must be removed for its own protection during this work, this is an ideal time to undertake the critically needed steps to preserve it for the benefit of future generations."

So in order to preserve one priceless treasure another must be sacrificed? Amherst College recently spent $100,000 moving their stately Camperdown Elm a few yards to protect it from a major renovation of Pratt Field.

As a newly minted member of Amherst Town Meeting (having already served for 20 years) I'm proud to say I have never voted against a historical preservation article, but if the church puts this towering treasure to death I will have trouble voting to support the restoration of their other gem.

Angel of the Lilies 
One of the problems in a college town like Amherst is first generation public officials have no institutional memory. And there's a lot more to understanding the culture of Amherst than simply knowing the h is silent.

Oh what a story this mighty oak could tell after 113 years of life. Someone call the Governor. A stay of execution is in order.

Pin Oak nearest building will soon come down


trussdob said...

Hey Larry,

I agree with you on this one. Requesting funds from an organization whose purpose is historical preservation, while destroying something that has been part of that neighborhood for over a century is counter-intuitive and un-acceptable.

I believe you have a very valid reason to not support this CPA proposal.

Dr. Ed said...

An addition?!?!? Aren't there any rules on either how much of a property you can build on, or how close to the sidewalk you can build?

And wasn't the rule that if you took down a healthy tree, you had to replace it with whatever number of young trees equaled the diameter of the tree you took down?

There are some "living/dead" trees on Kellogg Avenue, the one that came down in the 2011 Halloween Snowstorm being the worst, trees hollow at the base and dying above, just waiting to come down bringing powerlines if not worse with them.

If this tree is one of those with the internal hollow decay -- and it's easy enough to tell, just walk around it and see if there is a big gaping hole big enough for small animals to go through -- then it should come down -- should come down and be replaced with a younger tree so that 100 years from now, there will be at least one tree there.

But CPA money for the repair of interior of churches?!?!? Call me conservative but if the UUs can pay to expand their meetinghouse, they can pay to repair their own stained glass window as well.

Dr. Ed said...

Requesting funds from an organization whose purpose is historical preservation, while destroying something that has been part of that neighborhood for over a century

It's actually worse -- the item to be preserved is something that the public does not have the ability to enjoy, while the item to be destroyed is something that the public does enjoy.

Robert2663 said...

And there's a lot more to understanding the culture of Amherst than simply knowing the h is silent.

how true!

Anonymous said...

Once again the great tree debate, Ed makes a good point that everyone skips around but should be asking first thing, "Is it healthy"? If not, down it comes! Now the church issue is this Church town owned? If not they need to start passing around a bigger donation basket on Sundays.

Larry Kelley said...

The tree is perfectly healthy, it's just standing in the way of "progress".

Anonymous said...

How is a town-owned tree standing in the way of a private church expanding onto (I presume) private property?

And isn't this the same church that cut down some super-rare super-fancy tree a decade ago because it had gotten to big? Kismit tree or something...

Walter Graff said...

Classic Amherst... always start with a unanimous vote. Something you do when no one is in charge. Make sure to vote for something that anyone else would look at as ass-backwards. Then take some of that welfare money that the state gives you, along with taxpayers who seem to care little about what you do with it, money you control like a teenager who is given $5000, and spend it on something that you need not spend it on. Do it under the guise that this is somehow some sort of incredibly culturally rich community whose job it is to preserve the "cultural treasures" of the earth and spend as much money as possible to act bigger than they are.

I drove from North Amherst through the useless traffic circles to nowhere in the south today and along the way I saw a plethora of "For Sale" signs on more homes than I have in recent memory.

Better save your money Amherst. From the look of things, you better start squirreling away money in a tree (if any are left). The University enrollment is about to tank, and the constituency is starting to move out of Dodge.

Dare I say you might even have to stop giving out $147,000 jobs too. Even the state isn't dumb enough to pay the highest person in office that amount and he has far more responsibility.

The loss of this 100+ year old tree is a perfect metaphor for the future of this town. And while Larry's attempt at blocking this with a petition is honorable, about the only thing you can get this town to vote on is a president of color who had it sewed up anyway, a man who is really turning out to be more like George Bush than any hope and change rhetoric preached.

This town does love rhetoric. They screamed and clawed when they heard the schools were loosing important programs due to naive money management, but when it came time to vote for a new school board position and a few other roles, seems only the friends and family of candidates voted.

The 'H' is silent in rhetoric too. Sounds like a strange coincidence to me.

But like another poster here, my question is exactly whose property is this tree on? Is the town selling property to the church? Does the church own the air rights and want a better view of God? Is it the churches land? Just why is a private piece of property, or is it a public tree on private property, or private land "loaned to the town? What exactly is the rationale in this story?

Harkens back to a town wide ban on going outside because of a deadly mosquito borne disease that was ignored a few days after the town manager called me to tell residents to stay inside, only to beg everyone to come out to the town fair and bring your kids. Lot's of head scratching. You could get alopecia in this town if you really focused on how it's run.

Walter Graff said...

Ah, now I see. 121 N Pleasant St owns the parking lot behind it. All of it up to the next building. There goes the lot you can never park in. And there goes the tree. Wonder what happens to the wood. Does it end up getting dumped or used for firewood.

Larry Kelley said...

The tree is most certainly in the public way.

That is why the Shade Tree Committee has to make a recommendation (which I believe was "NO"), and then the Tree Warden gets to either accept their recommendation or overrule them.

Last year he overruled them with a bunch of trees at Atkins Corner construction project.

And even if he agrees and says "NO" the Church can appeal to the highest authority (No, not God) the venerable Amherst Select Board.

Dr. Ed said...

So then all Alan Snow has really done is scheduled a hearing and posted a notice thereof -- which he kinda is required to do regardless of whatever he may personally think of the merits of removing the tree.

I don't believe he has an option on this, does he? It is kinda like that drunk driver who almost ran over a bunch of cops, but he still has a right to a trial and they have to go through the process and all the rest.

Only UMass gets away with locking people up without benefit of process, but I digress...

So Alan has to hold a hearing, and hopefully someone will ask why the h*ll the town should cut down a (I presume) healthy tree on its own land to facilitate the church's building an addition that has got to be in violation of every zoning bylaw imaginable -- exactly what land are they building into?

And how will this impact the area -- I compare this to a different church that wasn't allowed to build because it's parking lot was feared to become a cut-through from Hobart Lane to East Pleasant (or something like that).

So this particular church is gay friendly and properly supportive of all left wing causes -- and with enough members being also members of Town Meeting, likely will get their CPA slushfund requrest gaveled through -- but do any of you see the problem with process that all of this represents?

This is the second HEALTHY tree that this church wishes to cut down, and whose land was the other one on???

Anonymous said...

I can't for the life of me understand why taxpayer's money is going to go to a RELIGIOUS institution to help them maintain their building!

What can possibly be the thinking here when there are so many other desperate needs in Town owned properties!

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, the plot thickens -- there are some serous questions about the use of CPA dollars to re-lead those stained glass windows.

The Massachusetts State Constitution has an "Anti-aid Amendment (Mass Const. Amend. Article 46 s.2, as amended by Article 103) which prohibits the use of public funds to private entities for private purposes. Any expenditure of public funds must be used to advance a PUBLIC purpose.

Preservation of historic resources is a public purpose, provided that there are deed restrictions and such to ensure the public's continued right to enjoy them. As this window is on the inside of the church and hence the public is only able to enjoy the benefit of the public dollars if permitted into the church, it would seem that this CPA request ought to come along with a deeded right of the public to enjoy access to the interior of the church.

This would include not only people not members of that congregation in the church's current usage, but in the event that the church was no longer used as a church (e.g. North Amherst Congregational) or sold to a different faith (e.g. East Amherst Congregational (2nd Parish?) which became the Jewish Community of Amherst), the public would still have the right to enter and enjoy the window.

I'll grant that it is a lovely window, and that it ought to be preserved, but public dollars can only be used for things that the public can enjoy -- and that is all the public -- and the congregation may well be better off passing the hat and repairing the window themselves.

And leaving the tree alone....

Larry Kelley said...

Well, technically the CPA $100 grand is not for the building but for the renovation/preservation of the "Angel of the Lilies" stained glass window.

But then, the window is h-u-g-e and it is part of the building.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be a lot of questions. I haven't seen many answers. A few rumors thrown in.

I really don't know enough to form an opinion, much less petition the town to act one way or another.

Has anyone asked the church why they're doing this?

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, they have. The answer is they wish to expand and it's a tad easier if they kill the tree.

I did link to Hope Crolius Letter To The Editor in today's Amherst Bulletin (2nd paragraph highlighted in white the words "save the tree") where she clearly says the Shade Tree Commmittee and Tree Warden tried to get the Church to modify their building plans slightly ... to no avail.

Dr. Ed said...

But then, the window is h-u-g-e and it is part of the building.

And the window's view is on the INSIDE of the building as well.

This is what makes it different from, say, repair to a steeple or (better) repair to a clock that strikes the hour as many of the Hilltown Churches still do. In that case, the public benefit would be preservation of things the public can enjoy from the outside. In this case -- no.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, it certainly doesn't look like much from the outside looking in (besides you have to dodge those kids on skateboards and playing Hacky Sack to even attempt a look).

Walter Graff said...

"What can possibly be the thinking here when there are so many other desperate needs in Town owned properties!"

Welcome to Amherst! This is how backwards the town is run every day.

Anonymous said...

So what public benefit is there?

I don't think this is an allowable use of CPA funds -- which can not be used for private purposes!

Anonymous said...

It would be useful to know why they are expanding, what their needs are, and what the changes recommended by the tree committee were. Do you know this?

Dr. Ed said...

I did link to Hope Crolius Letter

The link wasn't clear, at least to me, as to what it was to. But the letter is quite enlightening.

she clearly says the Shade Tree Committee and Tree Warden tried to get the Church to modify their building plans

So we don't need to crucify Alan Snow for this one -- it would appear that he, too, is on the side of trying to save the tree. Much like the Town Clerk, he is required to do certain administrative tasks which appears to be what he has done here.

More importantly, Ms. Crolius raises an interesting point -- the tree next to it is coming down as well! That one is structurally unsound (I knew one of the two were), and it is only a matter of time before either the town cuts it down or it comes down on its own.

And you want to worry about drunk drivers coming at you in a car that weighs a ton or two -- try 50 tons of tree landing on you! And did I mention that it also would be bringing down an (I believe) uninsulated power line that is 8,700 volts to ground, and further down the road, three of them which are 13,600 volts between the three (and each 8,700 volts to ground, each with its own fuse which may or may not blow).

Some of the Oak Trees on Kellogg Avenue have to come down -- it is a safety issue, they are called "widowmakers" for a reason. But the healthy ones ought to remain and be left alone!

Anonymous said...

I think it would be useful to know what the church's reasons for expansion are, what they need and want. Then, it would be useful to know what the town recommended and what the cost or impact of those changes were.

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering, did South Church use any CPA funds to restore the bell tower? Or anything else? Or have any other churches used it?I know you have a better memory than I do.

Larry Kelley said...

In May of 2009 Town Meeting approved $265,000 in CPA historical preservation spending -- including the Civil War tablets, West Cemetery landscape improvements, Historic signage, etc.

The only thing defeated out of a dozen items was $7,000 for North Congregational Church slate roof repair.

Anonymous said...

what's to stop the church from taking the $100,000 for repairs and then turning around and selling it? Does taking CPA money put some sort of claim on the object?

Larry Kelley said...

Yes a restriction is placed on it so if they do sell it the town would be reimbursed.

Dr. Ed said...

I think it would be useful to know what the church's reasons for expansion are, what they need and want.


Either we have a principle of maintaining some open space in a congested downtown or we have a total free-for-all where anyone can build anything anywhere, including on town land. H*** -- I want to build my McMansion right in the middle of North Pleasant Street, anyone got any issues with that?

There is a healthy tree on town-owned land and that should be a fact in and of itself. And I don't see anywhere that the church is trying to buy the land the tree is on, or to compensate the town for its loss, or even pay to cut it down -- they want the town to do this at town expense so they can gain. That's wrong.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ed.

Yes, we need rules for building. What building codes and zoning laws apply here? Do you have any reason to think these are not being followed in this case?

Also, why do you think that the church won't be made to replace the tree or pay to have it removed? You have said there are rules requiring this. What makes you think those rules are not being applied here?

It could be that this is a legal building proposal that is going to affect a tree on town property. Tree roots do stretch a long way. I think knowing why the building is proposed and what would be involved in protecting the tree are two big pieces of information I'd need before I could take a reasonable, informed stand here.

I think Larry should ask the church for their side.

Walter Graff said...

Frankly, I have always found this building and it's surroundings to be one of the eyesores, and black holes of downtown. It has no character, seems out of place, and looks abandoned. Perhaps the tree should fall on it so it can be rebuilt to look more appropriate for the location. Maybe the tree can knock down the post office across the street too. Another characterless looking cube in town.

Anonymous said...

Just start a rumor that the tree is a salamander habitat. Presto, problem solved.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, those damn kids on skateboards and playing hacky sack. Jeez I'm glad my perfect kids play the games that the community deems acceptable like baseball, soccer and math. Those other kids are just in the way.

Larry Kelley said...

Whatever gets them away from the keyboard is fine by me.