Two Mature Trees Marked by Controversy Are Removed in Old Greenwich

Two historic trees near the village of Old Greenwich are gone.

A century old Elm tree on town property at the corner of Edgewater and Sound Beach Ave just south of the village of Old Greenwich was removed by the town on Tuesday.

Photo: Leslie Yager

After it was posted for removal by Dr. Greg Kramer, Town Tree Warden in early November, complaints triggered a public hearing, and 81 people attended a Zoom public hearing on the fate of the tree.

Plenty of residents testified in favor of chopping down the tree, saying it not only blocked sight lines, but had dropped huge limbs over the years in the area of a sidewalk well traveled, especially by children coming and going from Old Greenwich School.

Greenwich Tree Foreman Joseph Kay said the Elm was “starting to flag” and might have succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease. He said it was a matter of time before the tree would die and noted there were many spots where the bark was peeling away.

“The tree is in overall decline,” he said.

James Fawett, a licensed arborist and tree climber for the Town said he had gone up in a bucket truck to inspect the tree’s canopy and found “heavy decline.”

“With a lot of pedestrian traffic, it’s a big issue,” he said.

Elm tree at corner of Edgewater and Sound Beach Ave. Nov 5, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

Others agreed the tree was in decline, but said its canopy contributed habitat, shade and CO2 absorption. Representatives from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said that if the tree was actually a hazard, the tree warden wouldn’t be required to post it.

Susie Baker, a 52-year resident of Old Greenwich, said the previous Tree Warden, Bruce Spaman, had referred to it as a “champion” and that it had survived Dutch Elm disease for decades.

“It’s one of the more important trees in Old Greenwich, and if it’s in declining health to the point where it’s imminently in danger of dying, I’d say it needs to be taken down,” he said. “However, if it has 10 or 15 more years left, with proper care, we should try to preserve it.”

Elm tree coming down at corner of Edgewater and Sound Beach Ave in Old Greenwich, Dec 28, 2021 Contributed photo

“None of us can wait 100 years for another tree like that to grow,” Pugliese said.

In the end, Dr. Kramer decided to approve the removal of the tree, citing its declining health, “severe trunk and crown decay,” history of large limb failure, challenge to sight lines and close proximity to high risk targets including a school, a church, sidewalks, busy roads and utilities.

On Tuesday a large crew removed the Elm Tree.

Afterward, a look at the stump revealed a huge hollow area in the middle.

In an email Dr. Kramer said the entire tree was removed in one day.

“Tree Dept staff did an excellent job removing the tree given all of the hazards of wires, traffic and a tree of questionable integrity. All in one day,” he said in an email.

The removal of the Sound Beach Ave Elm was all performed by Town of Greenwich Tree Dept staff, including about a half dozen working on the tree and two directing traffic.

Also, a 28-inch diameter Linden tree with an expansive canopy that was growing through the sidewalk by the medical office building at 5 West End Ave (behind the Sound Beach Fire station) was removed earlier this month.

Kramer said that tree removal was contracted out to Bartlett Tree Experts.

“Its removal was scheduled under the timeline set forth by the Dept of Public Works,” he explained.

Unlike the tree at the corner of Edgewater and Sound Beach Ave, the tree on West End Ave behind the fire station was very healthy and residents were eager to find a way to save it.

A resident who lives across the street on West End Ave asked if there a way to adjust the road by shifting the double yellow line over?

Photo: Leslie Yager

There was even talk of the town using eminent domain to take a few inches of the property where the medical office is in order to reroute the sidewalk.

During an equally well attended Zoom public hearing, DPW engineer Jason Kaufman said that in fall 2019 a person with a disability fell from his wheelchair and injured himself as he attempted to maneuver past the tree. He explained that federal law required 36-inches of clear width along sidewalks.

There is an exception for “pinch point” for items including trees, utility poles and fire hydrants, where it is possible to have 32-inches rather than 36-inches.

Because the Linden tree had grown through the sidewalk, there were just 19 inches between the tree and the curb. Most wheelchairs are 24-inch wide.

Susie Baker urged the tree warden and the DPW engineer to seek a creative solution like they had done to save a mature White Oak at 15 Sunshine Ave.

Francia Alvarez from the GTC asked whether the central line on West End Ave might be moved over and still have enough space for the cars and the tree. DPW engineer Mr. Kaufman said the answer boiled down to money.

“We’d have to identify property lines on the opposite side of the road,” he said. “That would incur costs to tax payers.”

No one mentioned the cost associated with cutting down a mature tree, though that was not mentioned.

Ms Messina noted there was minimal tree canopy in the village, and that it was difficult to plant new ones there due to all the paved surfaces.

“This tree is more important than other trees in that there is so much parking space with no tree cover,” she added. “This tree needs to remain.”

But it was not to be.

This week, Dr. Karmer said there were plans to plant new trees in the area of Sound Beach Ave, and that indeed there are locations on Sound Beach Ave where new trees can be replanted.

See also: Creative Solutions Urged to Save Mature Linden Tree on West End Ave in Old Greenwich