Tree Hearing to Reveal “High Quality and Tree-Friendly Design” at Western Middle School

A tree hearing scheduled by the Greenwich Tree Warden, Dr. Greg Kramer will take place later this week. The subject is the removal of and replacement plans for 176 town-owned trees at Western Middle School. The trees are in contaminated soil and are due to be cut down as part of the field remediation project.

The tree removal and replacement plan should be welcome news for WMS families who may be unaware of the back story: Originally 325 trees were slated for removal.

“Fields Closed” sign at Western Middle School. Nov 26, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

The WMS fields have been closed since 2016 when contaminated soil was first discovered. Families had been justifiably fed up with their children graduating from WMS without ever having used the fields for PE or after school sports.

The good news is contractors have started to appear at Western Middle School for the soil remediation project. The first step was tagging trees, and once the tree hearing is complete, the project will continue to build from there.

Weeds sprouting at a close off field at Western Middle School. Aug 21, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager
Sections of chain link fence around the fields Western Middle School fields. Aug 21, 2017

Eight Years in the Making

In January, families turned out in great number at a hearing to urge representatives from DEEP and the EPA to approve the Remediation Action Plan to remove soil to a depth of 2 feet, it replace it with clean fill and cap with synthetic turf.

Among 117 in attendance was Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy. She expressed support for the remediation plan, but she said she hoped as many of the existing trees could be saved as possible.

Since then, the GTC believes that has happened.

On Sunday, Greenwich Tree Conservancy director JoAnn Messina said it was commendable that the BOE was now bringing in the tree warden earlier in the planning process.

“By conducting a tree survey first, it’s possible to reduce the number of trees to be removed at the beginning of the process.”

At their April P&Z meeting, in order not to delay the BOE’s application for the fields project, the commission split the application in two.

They separated out the remediation and approved it. They agreed plans for a full landscaping plan including trees could be handled separately.

At the time, P&Z commission Chair Margarita Alban said she was concerned the trees would not be replaced based on past experience with BOE applications.

She literally begged the applicant to “respect our regulations.”

Also, Ms Messina said she was concerned about the tree canopy.

“We went to the original public hearing and were told that 100+ trees would be removed. The tree warden then went and asked for a walk around and came back and said, wow there’s a lot more than 100 trees to be taken down. He paid for a survey to be done by Davey Tree Service who have been working with the town. They came up with 325 trees to be removed,” Messina said. “That’s a huge number.”

Messina explained that her organization had won a grant the previous year to plant 50 trees in the Byram/Chickahominy area, and had planted double that – 100 trees – so the proposal to remove triple 325 at WMS was a tough pill to swallow.

Ms Alban said that while P&Z did not want to hold up the remediation, the commission was adamant any applicant, including the BOE, could not receive a C/O without a landscaping plan.

BOE chair Joe Kelly replied to Ms Alban, “We will certainly make it a priority, and I certainly understand … some of the shortfalls in the past.”

The Value of Trees

The value of mature trees on town property has been a priority of the Planning & Zoning Commission, and they have noted time and again that trees are critical for the town’s sustainability efforts and caution against the “heat island effect.”

Unfortunately, in recent years tree removal has felt like an afterthought given the some of the tough battles to get school projects over the finish line.

In May 2021 there was a showdown over the fate of 34 mature trees at GHS, whose removal was part of the Cardinal Stadium project’s handicapped parking lot. After a public hearing on the fate of those trees, experts for the BOE were able to compromise and reduce the number to 21.

But as final a punctuation on that project, the commission held up the most recent Certificate of Occupancy until all the replacement trees were installed.

Trees posted for removal on the GHS campus. Work on the bleachers is under way. April 29, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

Recently, P&Z impressed on the Central Middle School building committee that tree replacement was essential to moving forward.

They has also impressed on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) that landscaping requirements must be followed like any other zoning regulation: trees cannot be arbitrarily removed from funding if a project is to receive zoning approvals.

Nov 30 Tree Hearing

This link includes Zoom instructions for the Nov 30 tree hearing at 1:00pm with Dr. Kramer, and a list of trees, diameter at breast height (DBH) and species to be removed.

Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Toni Jones shared the details of the plans with families, noting, “Greenwich Public Schools is excited about the high quality and tree-friendly design to our amazing fields for the WMS community and entire Town of Greenwich.”

  • Number of full-size trees to be planted (shade, understory, and evergreen): 214
  • Number of restoration-size trees proposed: 844
  • Total number (regardless of installation size): 1,058 new trees
  • In addition, there is a tremendous amount of shrubbery which has been designed for implementation by the landscape architect

Contractor’s equipment at the entrance to the field at Western Middle School. Nov 26, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Fencing at Western Middle School. Nov 26, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Fencing at Western Middle School. Nov 26, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager