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Do Good Neighbors Cut Down Healthy Trees?

A blog on a local news website has raised questions about the importance of trees in Somerville, private property rights and what it means to be a good neighbor.

Credit: Patch.com
Credit: Patch.com
A blog on Boston.com has caused a lot of stir about trees in Somerville.

Somerville resident Patrick Smith is a pilot who normally blogs about air travel. But in his recent post, Smith tackled a subject firmly rooted in the ground.

It seems there's been a spate of tree felling in his neighborhood outside Davis Square, with several neighbors cutting down healthy, beautiful trees on their private property.

The final blow, from Smith's perspective, happened when a neighbor on Appleton Street cut down a 100-year-old tree that gave character and dignity to the entire neighborhood.

The neighbor cut down the tree to make room for a work shed, according to Smith, who wrote, "The whole aesthetic of the block now is changed—for the worse. Suddenly when I look out the back of my house to where this fantastic tree used to be, there's just empty sky and the rear facades of the neighbors' houses. The lighting, view, the feel ... everything is different."

It's worth reading the whole post.

Smith then raises some interesting points. On the one hand, private property is private property, and owners should have the right to do with it whatever they please.

On the other hand, zoning laws exist to prevent private property owners from infringing on the rights, quality of life and property values of neighbors.

"For some of us urbanites, even a single tree makes a gigantic difference in the way a property looks and feels," Smith wrote.

He asked: "Is it crazy or un-American to suggest that, at a certain point, a tree is no longer one person's private property per se, and belongs to the community?"

Somerville bills itself as "Tree City" and has tree-planting initiatives. In its "Happiness Survey," Somerville found that trees add to residents' enjoyment of the city.

Legal issues aside, is it an unneighborly thing to cut down trees enjoyed by the whole neighborhood?

Joe Lynch January 22, 2014 at 03:30 PM
Tricky situation. I am a big proponent of private property rights. I also love a neighborhood loaded with mature, leafy trees. But...........one example. A few years ago, a neighbor with mature crab apple trees in his yard, had enough of the rodents feasting on the discarded fruit on the ground, the mess of clean up and the occasional apple thrown by a less than smart neighborhood kid. Down came the trees. One was actually found to be loaded with bugs and quite internally unhealthy. His right, and I support it. Another example can be found on another media site with a title of "Going Nuts on Henderson Street". You would be surprised that the "Tree City" itself does not always practice what it preaches or spins.
Kevin Rhoads January 22, 2014 at 04:59 PM
There exists a very difficult situation here, especially as it pertains to ownership and risk ownership. Trees do have lifetimes and in most cases a tree on someone's property is both their responsibility and their property. While I can understand a neighbor's interest in the tree there are limits to how much we can do to control removal of trees without saddling the zoning board with "ITS TOO PRETTY" "It is damaging my roof" arguments. Ultimately don't most situations like this qualify as a "give notice" circumstance. Especially if there is going to be construction?
Joe Beckmann January 23, 2014 at 09:09 AM
And then there is the question of which trees does the city itself - our "tree city" - take down, and which they leave up, and, probably most important, which they replace. Stone Avenue, just off Union Square, had a recent "clean up" of a beautiful - but hollow - tree and some wildwoods, and still marks the site with barriers across the sidewalk, but with little sign of actual replacement for a tree that will be missed. Meanwhile, just down the street, a large dead limb looms over parkers and walkers. The question is both the private business of homeowners and the public business of sidewalk trees at risk.
Alicia Byrd January 23, 2014 at 09:47 AM
A 100- year old tree is probably near the end of it's lifespan. Why doesn't Mr Smith grow his own tree?
Brian McCarthy January 26, 2014 at 11:24 AM
Yes, grow your own tree. Stop trying to steal other people's trees. The tree is their property.

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