Controversy Arises over Possible Tree Removal on West End Ave, Tree Warden Schedules Hearing

At Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting on Thursday there was discussion about a tree posted for removal in Old Greenwich.

The mature tree, which is growing into the sidewalk, is located at 8 West End Ave.

The tree warden, Dr. Greg Kramer, announced he had scheduled a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Nov 2 at 10:00am. (log information at foot of article).

During the Selectmen meeting, Alan Gunzburg from the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities, said that two years ago his friend Joe Dowling, also a member of the committee, had tipped over in his wheelchair as he attempted to go around the tree.

“He fell out into the middle of the street. Luckily for him, and the town, there were bumps, bruises and scratches, but he wasn’t hit by a car,” Gunzburg added.

“We brought this up to our committee. We didn’t have a policy for ADA trees at the time, but we had a meeting over (a tree of concern on Elm Street at Greenwich Ave), and said that if there was a tree problem, we’d get everyone together including the Tree Warden, ADA coordinator, DPW, and possibly the person who made the complaint.”

Instead Gunzburg was disappointed to learn the tree warden scheduled the public hearing for Nov 2.

“As a group we talked about engaging the owner of the building and talked about a redesign of the sidewalk,” he said. “The owner decided not to give us an easement.”

Gunzburg said in the town charter, section 23-59, the powers and duties of the tree warden refers to whether the condition of a tree, shrub or group of shrubs constitutes an immediate public hazard.

“This tree made Joe Dowling fall into the middle of the street. This is an immediate public hazard. And the attorney decided she would let the tree warden go through with this process. His process was ‘the tree was healthy.’ Of course it’s not a danger to him. He doesn’t use a guide dog.”

Gunzburg quoted the person who requested the tree hearing as saying, ‘I have been able to maneuver a baby stroller and double stroller around that tree for years.’

“Of course she can,” Gunzburg said. “She’s not in a wheelchair. She’s not using a walker.”

“This particular tree takes away the three feet that is required on the sidewalk by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Gunzburg said.

Selectperson Oberlander noted the tree was on a commercial property, and the site was not in compliance with ADA access rules.

“I think what I hear you saying, is the property owner of this commercial site rejected (the easement)?” she asked. “My question to the town attorney is, if we wanted to condemn the property needed for an easement, how long does that process take?”

Town attorney Barbara Schellenberg estimated that could take six months.

Gunzburg said just because the tree was healthy didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous.

“People have unconscious bias against people with disabilities,” he added. “They don’t see it.”

Camillo said he would look into expanding the definition of an “immediate public hazard.”

He noted that a similar situation with a tree growing through the sidewalk on Sunshine Ave was resolved by DPW without cutting down the tree.

He said he’d like to speak with the town attorney, staff from risk management and the tree warden, and have the topic on an upcoming Selectmen meeting agenda.

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