Neighbor Fears Prospect Of Tree Demolition

Mark Donovan is proof that you can go home again.

Last January the 1985 Staples High School graduate — now a new business entrepreneur — moved with his wife and youngest daughter into the Prospect Road house where he grew up. His mother — who moved there with her family 50 years ago — welcomed the companionship.

Now Donovan worries that the house he went home to may lose some of its greatest assets.

A developer bought the house next door. He’s ready to demolish the home — and the old oak trees that give the area so much beauty.

Some of them sit near the Donovans’ property line, within the next door property setback.

The grand oaks on the property line this fall ….

Donovan fears what the loss of those trees will do to the streetscape. He worries too about the effect on his and his neighbor’s centuries-old stone walls; the trees’ root systems run directly underneath.

Of course he’s concerned too about water runoff, from the increasingly severe storms we now see.

Donovan has one more worry: that Westport’s Tree Board — and every other town body — is powerless to stop the developer’s plans.

No regulations currently address the cutting of trees on private property.

“From time to time trees obviously need to come down,” Donovan says. “But why doesn’t the town protect those that don’t have to?”

… and more recently.

John and Melissa Ceriale — his across-the-street neighbors, who have spent 25 years building beautiful gardens and a meadow on their 8 acres of land — are concerned too. They’re helping Donovan try to convince developer Joe Feinleib of Coastal Construction to scale back his clear-cutting plans.

The Westport Garden Club is also making calls.

Donovan admits this is a personal issue. But, he says, his eyes have been opened to broader, town-wide concerns. Other places, like Greenwich and Nyack, have very strict rules about trees. Why, he wonders, don’t we?

The developer has already cut many trees on his property.

“There’s nothing to stop any developer,” Donovan notes. “If no one says they can’t, I don’t blame them for trying. Why does the town allow that to happen?

“They don’t have to care about me personally. But they should care about the history, the beauty and the environment of the entire town.”

Right now, the trees remain. But Donovan knows that any day, he could arrive home and see the land next door irrevocably altered.

“They say they’ll plant new trees,” he says of the developer. “I don’t understand that reasoning. If these old oak trees come down, we can’t get them back in my kids’ and grandchildren’s lifetimes.”

(Developer Joe Feinleib of Coastal Construction did not reply to a request for comment.)

7 responses to “Neighbor Fears Prospect Of Tree Demolition

  1. Bruce Fernie SHS1970

    If the trees are on the property line notify the town and get a cease and desist order asap. A ‘neighborhood’ letter might be a good idea also. Why is it that almost always developers fit into a category of people that just don’t seem to give a hoot as long as the $$$ are big enough? The trees are a major asset to the area.

  2. If Feinlieb won’t agree to save the trees, take out a full page add in CT Post and WN With photo of trees now and after destruction, telling folks what an inconsiderate horse’s ass is Feinleib.
    If you find such ads too expensive, I’ll contribute and so will others who are outraged by such thoughtless avarice.

  3. Similar situation has occurred on our street, Wakeman Place, where someone purchased the house next door to ours and many trees were taken down. Some perhaps to make room for the building but others not so. What once was a forested kind of lot is now so wide-open. I suppose it would be difficult for the town to require on the permits to show the plans for how the trees are going to be treated but it would be nice if there was more concern for these old trees. No one wants a tree to fall on a house but somewhere there ought to be some consideration given as to how this clearing of trees impacts others and the environment.

  4. If it’s on the property line, and some of the tree is on your property, you may have legal rights. Another possibility is that the tree could actually be on your property; is it possible to find a way to have a survey of that line before any action could be taken on the tree? If the developer ever wants a variance, he may be willing to work with you. After all, don’t shade trees increase the value of residential properties? So, wouldn’t that be in his interests?

    On a separate note, I understand Coastal worked with the neighbor who lives on the side street property line when he built a development along Post Road East. It is puzzling as to why he is not working with neighbors now..

  5. John Terpening

    Talk to Gail Coen about the cypress trees that her grandfather planted and the “DE”-struction the “De”-veloper did “DE”-stroying a beautiful home and property that overlooks the sound. If I understand it correctly, cypress are one of the only trees that can grow in extremely sandy soil. The backstory is, the trees reminded him of Italy. On Sundays he would play Italian opera from his front porch for folks walking the beach.
    This is a little off topic but I was arrested in Norwalk in 2003 for innocently cutting down a couple of small trees on town property. I was charged with first degree criminal mischief based on estimated replacement value. All charges were later dropped. What I came to find out was Norwalk was in the process of writing a town wide ordinance to deal with tree removal.They had two previous offenders that they wanted to prosecute but needed to establish a precedent/ordinance in order to achieve this. Maybe to some a bad
    idea, but maybe Westport should call over to Norwalk and ask for help.

    In California I watched a private interest group of homeowners as a collective purchase private property and preserve it as “open space” in order to protect it from development. In the end it not only preserved the environment but it also preserved/protected their property values by preserving the rural flavor and tone of valley that was once cattle farms and horse ranches. A double win.

    If it was a perfect world, I would love to see some of the “old” big money blue bloods in harmony with present tense environmental conservationists use their power and their cash to halt development before there is nothing left of value in the town I grew up in. In my humble opinion “DEVELOPMENT” represents short term financial gain for a select few while “DESTROYING” long term educational/historical information for the greater whole.

    At this point if development continues to proceed as it has, in the not to distant future children will be asking their parents……….”What is a leaf?”

  6. I love trees and have many mature ones on my property. Have only taken 2 down because they died and posed a danger if they were to fall. Appreciate all the well intentioned save-the-trees comments but rather than one-off protests, ads, etc.; why not actually change (or create) a well-defined, practical-for-development town law that makes it clear when one can take down a tree, and the type of tree, etc. As a Westport property owner, I might have an issue with that if I judged a tree to be dangerous and/or simply not one I wanted on my property any longer. But we have elected officials who should be asked to address this issue if the town deems it important enough. Otherwise, the cause-of-the-day approach is pointless. Can’t block land owners from doing what is their legal right to do just because you don’t like it, or because it’s an “evil developer” vs an individual neighbor. Perhaps hard to digest for some but can’t blame a developer, or any individual, who legally bought land in Westport and wishes to develop it or take down a tree if that is their legal right to do so.