EAST MONTPELIER — Most trees growing in the right of way along East Montpelier’s 62 miles of town roads would be afforded special protection under a plan the Select Board wasn’t ready to approve Monday night.
A “shade-tree preservation plan” — one, which as written would give the local tree warden broad authority over virtually any tree with a diameter of more than 4 inches growing in the town’s right of way.
That is an awful lot of trees and would represent a significant change in the rules that have been in place for the past two years, and a subtle, but stark departure under the law that was in place before the 2020 change.
Tree wardens have always had a say over which trees in the right of way should be removed for safety-related reasons, but under the old law the ability to regulate the removal of trees was limited to the “public shade trees” — one that were planted by a municipality, like the street trees in downtown Barre, or those in Hope Cemetery.
There are some but not a lot of those in East Montpelier, but the new law potentially expands the tree warden’s jurisdiction to include trees that were planted by the town, as well as any other tree in right of way that is designated as a “shade tree” in an approved “shade tree preservation plan.”
The plan that was the subject of a public hearing Monday night defines “shade tree” as “… all trees within the right of way of town highways if the diameter at breast height equals or exceeds (4) inches, with the exception of common buckthorn and glossy buckthorn.
If the plan is adopted, removal of any of those trees would require advance permission of the tree warden — a decision that could be appealed.
The plan indicates those trees — every one of them — is “critical to the cultural, historical or aesthetic character” of East Montpelier.
The Select Board isn’t there yet, and it isn’t clear how much closer they got during a hearing that saw Chair Seth Gardner, Road Commissioner Guthrie Perry and resident Colin Blackwell express varying levels of concern with the plan as proposed.
Gardner told Tree Warden Paul Cate the proposed plan makes him a “little queasy” from a property rights perspective.
“It takes rights away from landowners who have trees along the road,” he said.
Perry said he liked the general concept of having the tree warden involved in some cases, but worried about the sheer volume of trees that would involve.
“Having all the trees in town that are over 4 inches (in diameter) be considered a ‘shade tree’ is a little aggressive,” he said.
According to Perry, not all trees are created equal and some — size not withstanding — may not be worth protecting. Either way, he worried the plan would be setting the bar too low.
“It does make me nervous to think of all the trees along every bit of road that are over 4 inches,” he said. “That’s a lot of trees.”
Absent a board-adopted preservation plan most of those trees don’t fall within the tree warden’s jurisdiction because the town didn’t plant them. As a result removing them — in most cases — isn’t something for which prior approval is required. While adopting the plan would change that, Blackwell joined Gardner and Perry in wondering whether the definition of “shade tree” was overly broad.
“It really implies the town is in control of all of the trees,” he said, predicting the “let’s call them all shade trees” approach could open the door to more disputes.
“You’re setting everyone up for a lot more work,” he said. “Both the tree warden and the landowner(s).”
Though Gardner closed the public hearing, he suggested he wasn’t ready to approve the proposal without additional information, discussion and possibly modifications.
“I just think there (are) too many questions for us to just adopt the plan tonight,” he said.
Members agreed it was more important to get it right than rush and suggested the conversation could be renewed in coming weeks.
Towns are not required to adopt shade tree preservation plans under the new law, and East Montpelier is among the first communities in Vermont working on creating such a document.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.