Update: Town to review options in regard to West Mountain Sycamore
By John Fitts
Tuesday, April 4 update:
The town of Canton has canceled a public hearing related to the planned tree removal of a historic Sycamore tree in the West Mountain Road intersection at Cherry Brook Road. The hearing was slated after the town had slated the tree for removal - due to safety concerns - an action which generated widespread public outcry.
"In an attempt to balance the Town’s interest in public safety at the intersection of Cherry Brook and West Mountain Roads with the public interest in preserving the sycamore in the middle of this intersection, the Town will seek an engineer to provide design options that would improve safety and hopefully preserve the tree," First Selectman Robert Bessel wrote in a message to residents Tuesday. "Until additional options can be reviewed and presented to the Town, the tree will not be removed. In light of this change, the Town has canceled the public hearing scheduled for April 11."
See newer story, with additional details, here.
CANTON – A proposal to take down a long-standing sycamore in the middle of West Mountain Road at the intersection of Cherry Brook Road is headed to a public hearing, as many town residents have formally objected to the idea.
The hearing has been scheduled for April 11 at 7 p.m. in the multi purpose of the Canton Community Center. It was originally scheduled for earlier in the day but the time was changed after feedback from residents.
"We had several requests from people who couldn't make the meeting in the morning," First Selectman Robert Bessel said. call People can also attend virtually (see link below).
On March 24, the town’s tree warden Thomas Richardson posted to a removal notice on the tree, which has promoted strong reactions from residents, some of whom have even placed “Save this tree” signs on it.
It’s also been a hot issue on social media.
Nikki Wardwell Sleath is one who shared a Facebook post about the tree, adding “this seems like a needless matter of convenience, and this majestic tree is a unique landmark in this town.”
Wardwell Sleath added to the press that the tree has been special to her family since 2008.
“When my husband and I were first looking at houses in this town and considering moving here, we drove up Cherry Brook Road to take a look at the elementary school where our children would end up going to school,” she said. “We noticed that tree right away and both thought it cool that the town had not moved it for the sake of the convenience of the roadway. We considered it a check in the column of reasons why we liked the town as one of our options.”
And as of the morning of March 27, Richardson said he had received nearly 50 emails on the issue, one in favor or removal and the rest opposed and noted that a public hearing is being scheduled. It would only take one objection to hold the hearing, he added.
The recent action in regard to removal was prompted by a March 7 call from a resident, who expressed concerns about safety at the intersection. Town officials, including Richardson, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner and Chris Arciero, Canton’s police chief and legal traffic authority, according to a March 21 town memo, then discussed the issue.
According to that memo, there have been, since 2011, five “documented” accidents at the intersection where the tree “may have been a contributing factor.”
Additionally, the bus company has noted “close calls” and the fire chief said most fire vehicles avoid the intersection by going Route 44 to Indian Hill in order to avoid the “tight turn” at the intersection.
The memo also asserts that the intersection is particularly concerning for plows.
“There are additional concerns that large vehicles, particularly, with snowplow blades, exiting from West Mountain Road are extended further onto Cherry Brook Road to improve sightlines. Moreover, some large trucks turning left onto West Mountain Road do so to the left of the tree, which adds another safety concern due to the location of the tree and traffic on West Mountain Road,” the memo also states.
The state of Connecticut is scheduled to do some milling and paving in the area and is willing to cut the tree, provided the town grind the stump, town officials said.
Richardson said the tree, which he estimates could be close to 100 years old and 80 feet high, is healthy.
According to a submission from Lans Perry, whose family has a long history in the area, the tree is one of many planted by Linus Barber - who incidentally died at age 31 - circa 1840. Trees along cherry Brook were plan 30 feet apart, about 8 feet off the road, he noted, providing several historical documents to back it up.
Just four remain, according to Perry's submission.
"Linus was son of Giles and grandson of Dr. Samuel who came to our farm in 1738," he wrote." Linus went broke in the Panic of 1837 but by hard work recovered and got enough money together to pay a surgeon to fix his face so he could win the hand of a girl and get married. Sadly he died of iatrogenic causes at 31. It would be awful if his trees suffered a similar fate at your hands."
The Board of Selectmen recently discussed the issue and Skinner referred to the memo and acknowledged that there would be some resistance to cutting it down.
"Some people would probably chain themselves to the tree to keep it from coming down because it’s been there for so long," Skinner said.
“You know Bob I might have been one of those people,” said selectman Tim LeGeyt, a long-time Canton Center resident. “But I’ve changed my mind. I’m in favor of taking that tree down now and one of the things that changed my mind was the picture of that plow truck.... I’m reluctantly in favor of doing it, but I’m not in favor of taking the other two trees.”
The "other two trees" reference was for two sycamores north of West Mountain noted in the memo, but the town is not proposing removing those, Richardson said Monday morning.
Skinner also said the tree will keep growing and would eventually need to come down.
"It’s a sycamore, which will continue to grow and grow and grow," Skinner said. "Eventually it is going to have to come down. If by taking down that tree down now you can save the other sycamores. which are north of that."
In his letter, Perry disputes the notion of imminent growth.
"The little tree is the same age as the bigger trees." Perry wrote. "None growing robustly or threatening to get huge in our lifetimes.Growth limited by break-even photosynthate production due to frequent defoliation and competition for crown/root space."
And while selectmen reached a consensus, and some have posted on Facebook in favor of removal, many in town are offering different perspectives and it's an issue that has agreement from the chairs of both the Democratic and Republican Town Committees.
“I was very disappointed to learn of the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation that the town remove the iconic sycamore tree that has stood at the corner of Cherry Brook and West Mountain Roads for more than a century,” said Katie Kenney, who grew up and lives on Cherry Brook Road and chairs the Democratic Town Committee. “The tree’s dignified persistence as West Mountain Road has been built around it is a fitting symbol of Canton’s commitment to balancing our rich natural endowment with the demands of the modern world. I hope that our Tree Warden will heed the community’s deep opposition to this needless destruction and decide in favor of preserving this beloved tree.”
Pete Myers, chair of the Republican Town Committee said he was also, "very disappointed in the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation to remove this iconic tree."
"This tree is a symbol of the Canton Center area," he said, calling it part of the area's historic beauty. "From what I understand the tree’s in good health, which is incredible, considering where it is. This tree absolutely is a symbol of our town and deserves to be preserved."
Skinner said people who cannot attend the meeting online or in person can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
All those comments will be considered and included in the record, Skinner said.
The hearing has been scheduled for April 11 at 7 p.m. at the Canton Community Center.
The meeting agenda, the report and online link can be found at https://www.townofcantonct.org/all-news/?FeedID=3737
At the hearing, Richardson said, town officials will be on hand at the hearing to give their perspectives - in addition to the comments from residents. After the hearing, he has three days to make a decision, Richardson said. That decision can be appealed to the state’s Superior Court.