Minuteman, Spare That Tree!

It’s one of Westport’s most iconic views: The Minute Man monument.

Yet just as impressive as the 1910 statue is the magnificent red oak tree behind, at the corner of  South Compo and Compo Beach Read. It frames every photo. It adds permanence to that historic spot. It’s as beautiful as New England gets.

The tree stands on town-owned property — long a buffer against development. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe from private property harm. Part of the tree makes contact with private property, so ownership is considered “shared.”

The Minute Man Monument, with the magnificent red oak behind

Spec builders — Simple Plan One LLC — hope to develop a home at 280 Compo Road South. The project is moving through various town departments.

The plan does not include removal of the tree. But it could very likely cause the tree to die within a couple of years due to nearby root cutting and root compaction, along with changes to the topography after regrading.

A major threat to the tree is the proposed moving of a WPA-era drainpipe (which has a permanent easement), to make room for the new house. The developer has asked permission to redirect the pipe, expanding the building envelope — thus allowing a significantly larger home to rise on the site.

Moving the pipe appears to run a very real risk of damaging the red oak’s root system.

The tree would not die immediately, if damaged. Its demise could take a year or two.

But it would sure not last the 800 years or so that similar trees, in robust, healthy condition, could live for.

This one is more than 100 years old. It’s still a child.

The Minute Man Monument, around the time of the 1910 dedication. The very young tree can be seen in the background.

Another worry involves construction of a new driveway across the town-owned property onto Compo Beach Road. That would provide a 2nd driveway, in addition to the one the property has long had on South Compo.

(The driveway is now at the easternmost edge of the property — down the road, away from the Minute Man. The new driveway on South Compo would be closer to the monument.)

Neighbors worry that the 2nd driveway, with parking and a garage — passing over town-owned property — also runs a very real risk of encroaching on, and damaging, the tree’s roots.

The reason for the garage there? It’s to insulate the living areas of the home from traffic noise on Compo Beach Road.

One more view.

According to tree warden Bruce Lindsay, the “stately red oak … is in excellent health.” He hopes that it “is not harmed, (and that) proper tree protection systems are put into place to maintain the tree’s health and structure outside the Critical Root Zone, (and) beyond the scope of the work.”

The Flood and Erosion Control Board approved the project on May 1. Since then, it appears that a number of changes have been made to the plans. The tree was not part of that board’s discussion, as it was not a known issue at the time.

The Conservation Commission met on May 15. They held the matter open until a special meeting — set for June 10 — to allow neighbors’ consultants time to review the proposal. Click here for a video of the commission’s May meeting.

The developer hopes to get on the Planning & Zoning Commission agenda this month or next.

Will officials permit the taking of town property for an additional entrance? Will they green-light proposed work that runs a substantial risk of harming a historic, stately town-owned tree?

All of this does not even touch the question of what new, large construction would mean to the streetscape view of the Minute Man Monument, at that iconic corner.

Stay tuned.

The Minute Man himself may not be able to fight.

But concerned Westporters can.

28 responses to “Minuteman, Spare That Tree!

  1. The tree warden, Bruce Lindsey “Hopes it is not harmed” and “that proper protections are put in place?” HOPES???. What the hell is he doing to ENSURE that the tree, which is under HIS jurisdiction, is not harmed in the present or threatened for the future…what the good is a tree warden who HOPES?

    • Like everything in life, things aren’t as simple as you would imagine….
      The article states “Part of the tree is on private property”, (in this case it appears to be the root system) and I don’t think the tree warden has the authority to control what happens on private property…
      Hopefully,
      Hopefully, the contractor will work with any recommendations the town may have…
      Figure out the critical root zone (basically 1′ for every 1″ of diameter at breast height, to see what percent (if any) of roots will be disturbed.
      If any roots are cut, they should be root pruned before backfilled…
      Also, the tree should be sub surface fed with Mycorrhiza Fungi if any roots are disturbed…

    • Like your buddy who’s Motto was Hope and Change. I guess that was ok. Lol.

  2. Charles Taylor

    BRAVO!!!!!

  3. This oak is a beautiful specimen of the single most environmentally valuable tree family. (Doug Tallamy’s study found that oaks support no fewer than 462 species of moths & butterflies alone; much more than any other type of tree) — . In other words, it is a critical piece of the food web that supports other wildlife such as birds. Add to this that a 2018 tree canopy analysis by the Western CT Council of Governments found that Westport has the second worst tree canopy coverage in the region. Let’s not lose another valuable tree. https://westcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Regional-Tree-Canopy-Analysis.pdf

  4. Sally Kellogg

    My 93-year Mother, Sally Thorp Jacob Kellogg Deegan was a child and present at the dedication. Just what the world needs is squeezing in yet another McMansion.

  5. The town has the power to safeguard this tree and its critical root zone – if it wants to exercise that power. But the town’s environmental record is awful (massive illegal dump in Barons South). So to the husband and wife team behind Simple Plan One, LLC; since you live in Westport, how about setting a better example when it comes to the stewardship of important public resources? How about taking ownership of this problem by publicly declaring that you will do what is necessary to protect the health of the People’s Tree?

  6. A “simple plan” would be to follow Bob Stallings suggestion as well as the owners taking some stewardship! PS: Bruce Lindsey is a TREEmendous tree warden.

  7. Christine Schatz

    I have no expertise here so I could be way off base, but isn’t it in the developer’s best interest to preserve the tree? It blocks sound from the road, offers some privacy and, most importantly, it’s beautiful. It seems like the sale price of the new home will be negatively impacted if buyers find out that the tree will likely die. If I were the buyer, I’d also worry about the soon-to-be dead tree falling on my new house, or sick tree limbs falling down while my kids inevitably tried to climb them.

  8. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    No tree lives forever. This one’s had a great life and should be turned into fine furniture by some olsd woodworker like me. Developers take the money and run and by the time you learn of it the horse has left the barn. This is an old story for Westport. IMO strike one was the corner of Wright St. and the Post Rd. Strike two was Nyala Farm/Stauffer Chemical. Strike three was Gorham Island but even that stately white house was probably an earlier generation’s travesty. Cherish the memories!!!

    • David Stalling

      True: No tree lives forever. But red oaks live 200 years on average, and up to 400 years in ideal conditions. This tree has a lot of life left in it — if we let it live. Considering its location, I think its aesthetic value outweighs its potential to become furniture at this stage in its life. I hope the appropriate folks will follow the good advice of knowledgeable, experienced arborists like my brother, Bob, who posted recommendations above.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker

      You can’t be serious! Give the wood to some old woodworker…….like you! Shame!
      The area does not need more concrete.
      Morley and Bob both make important contributions to this discussion.
      I hope that intelligence, ecological considerations and historical importance will rule on the issue. Keep us posted Dan.

  9. I particularly notice the line about building a garage “to insulate the living areas of the house from the traffic noise on Compo Beach Road.” How appalling! If they’re seeing disadvantages to living at the beach before they’ve even built a house, maybe they should build somewhere else.

  10. Ian E. Warburg

    Calling Westport home for more than 5 decades, and living mostly by the beach, I’ve been passing the Minuteman Statue, and this spectacular tree that sits behind it, for most of my life. I’m gutted at the thought that anyone could undertake activities that threaten the health and viability of such a magnificent natural asset of our community, especially one that is Town owned.

    Hoping that this beautiful and iconic specimen is properly protected, and that every possible measure is taken to prevent harm to it, so that others can enjoy it’s majestic presence for generations to come.

  11. The new home owners …..Please set an example for everyone to see…the proper stewardship of our town’s magnificent oak tree. I wish the town would step in to protect it too.

  12. For the 18 years I lived elsewhere, I always knew I was home when I drove/biked/ran past the Minuteman and that incredible oak. I can’t imagine that intersection without the giant tree framing the statue.

  13. Michael Calise

    This property already has a driveway entrance on Compo Road South. A second driveway is unnecessary and a safety hazard due to its close proximity to the intersection. On that basis alone the Department of Public Works should not issue a driveway permit.

  14. Hi Dan,

    Let me introduce myself as the developer of 280 CRS.

    Firstly, I think that as a courtesy to me, and with regard to journalistic integrity, it would have been helpful to have interviewed all parties involved and given me a chance to include my comments before publishing this article.

    I am always available to talk about this project, in the same way that I have been transparent and open with the neighbors.

    Secondly, and more relevantly, there has never been any intention to remove the tree or to damage it in any way. As one of the above commentators mentioned, it would make no sense to remove it even if it was our right to do so. It is a beautiful and established old tree, and also offers some privacy to the new house to be built.

    I have hired a tree expert who has worked to preserve old trees across Fairfield Country, and have been working closely with the town to keep them informed and to address any of their concerns. If you watch the video and study the plans, the tree preservation action plan is carefully detailed to protect it during construction and upon completion of the build.

    My team has conscientiously worked with all the town departments to abide by every single rule and regulation – the first part of the process was to have plans approved by Engineering to submit to the Flood and Erosion Control Board. We did this, and were approved to proceed on May 1. The tree was not discussed as that was an engineering meeting, and not Conservation.

    There are too many other inconsistencies to comment on here, but I am open to any communication with anyone with concerns, and would like to assure everyone that has an interest, that we are intending to protect the tree and are working hand in hand with the town on all issues.

    Just on a side note, I would like to say that I live in Westport with my husband and three young children. We built our home here four years ago and feel lucky to live in such a thriving, creative and open-minded town. We both love modern architecture and this project will be a beautiful new home that will be sensitive to the beach neighborhood and surrounding houses. It will definitely be an improvement on the previous house, and the family that moves in will be lucky to be living in such an amazing neighborhood.

    I’m not a big out-of-town developer with no love or understanding of Westport and I think that this kind of article that vilifies new construction and larger homes as “McMansions” contributes to the toxic, divisive and primarily on-line fighting amongst people that is so prevalent at the moment. Sometimes change can be good, and Westport is a young, bustling destination town where people feel very lucky to have landed. If I can bring a new young family to town to also experience that, then I will be very happy.

    Best wishes,

    Lianne

    • It seems your own engineer is on record as saying that the greatest risk to the tree is the very driveway you propose. If your engineer is correct, then some of your claims about protecting the tree might reasonably be called into question. If you truly cared about the continued health of the tree, you would not do anything which runs the risk of cutting or compacting its root system.

  15. The tree softens the corner and is beautiful..
    Haven’t we lost enough at the beach with
    New construction and many trees gone already? This tree has lived through Many hurricanes and floods. It’s strong and resilient.
    Mother Nature saved it, why not a builder?

    Thanks for the consideration,
    Amy

  16. I do hope a compromise can come to pass here. Two things important things which are key to our survival is clean water and trees. This “tree of glory” should be no different then all the others that have been “clear cut” off building lots over the past 10 years to make room for the newer, bigger home. We are all guilty. Our human nature comes out for a cause when things effect our own neighborhood right?
    Drive around this town with open eyes and you will see many “big homes” with little trees where once many thrived like the “tree of glory”
    We need to do a better job balancing and protecting our environment (which includes trees) as we expand, and continue to embrace the new construction.
    40 years ago Deer, Coyotes, Foxes, and Bears were rarely seen or heard. Who encroached on who? There was no lyme disease 40 years ago.
    Again, I am confident good people will prevail and the developers will work with the town to save the “tree of glory.” This has been a great post, in that now maybe we as a town will pay attention to the importance of saving our trees. At the same time, working with developers and their architects to incorporate more tree saving and planting in their plans.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker

      Thank you Jimmy.
      Ms. Owen. When you introduced yourself as the developer of 280 CRS it came across as uncaring and impersonal. The tree, statue and the history of the whole area is very personal to so many of us. There are serious environmental issues to be considered.

      • Elina Lublinsky

        I quite respectfully disagree.
        Ms. Owen’s introduction seemed very appropriate and straightforward, as well as the rest of her message. She provided a thoughtful, heartfelt and well-reasoned response, which I very much appreciate.
        That whole “two sides to every story” notion exists for a reason.

  17. Really,,,why the need for a ‘second’ driveway in a residential area with normal building lots? Is the ‘second’ driveway a ‘service’ entrance?

  18. Thanks to Dan Woog for keeping us informed. I am reassured by Ms. Owen’s words that this crucial part of the Westport streetscape (just down the block from my own home) will be preserved. But it is of course the town’s obligation too to remain vigilant. With everyone’s attention and goodwill, the common goal of saving the tree and the beauty of the corner can be achieved.

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