Mark Donovan Has Chutzpod!

Last month, Mark Donovan attempted to stop the demolition of a stand of oak trees on the Prospect Road property next to his own.

Though unsuccessful, his fight drew townwide attention.

Mark Donovan — dressed as Santa Claus — attempted to stop the demolition of oak trees on Prospect Road.

Now his effort has gone national.

Donovan — a 1985 Staples High School graduate, who now lives in his childhood home with his mother, wife and daughter — was the featured guest on this week’s episode of Chutzpod! This podcast — whose tagline is “Ancient texts for modern times,” and is hosted by activist and actor Josh Malina — covered the futile attempt, and Donovan’s subsequent desire to change local town tree ordinances.

Not for nothing, Chutzpod! is the #1 listened to podcast covering issues around Judaism in North America (according to Apple). On Friday it was #33 in the Religion & Spirituality category.

Donovan’s episode is timely. Tu Bishvat — the Jewish “New Year of the Trees” — begins tonight, and runs through tomorrow.

In “Bring Me a Shrubbery” — which includes a brief appearance by actor and Westport resident Scott Foley — Donovan says, “We live in a community. The community is not one individual or even two individuals. Just because something is legal and you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that it actually makes it right to do it.” Some things “clearly affect everyone in the community.”

He adds his disappointment that people watching cheered as the trees were chopped down.

“It was not only embarrassing, but just confounding…it was shameful, really…it’s almost like the same victory lap that people take when they kill a dear with a shotgun.”

Donovan’s fight continues. Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission is drafting legislation to address tree cutting on private property.

(Click here to listen to Mark Donovan’s “Bring Me a Shrubbery” Chutzpod! episode. It is also available on many other platforms.)

11 responses to “Mark Donovan Has Chutzpod!

  1. Even if one thinks a property owner has the right to do whatever he/she wants on that property, it is beyond belief that anyone would “cheer” the felling of long standing trees. Who ARE the people?

  2. The very idea of anyone cheering the trees being cut down sickens me.

    • This comment has nothing to do with my personal feelings about the subject, but isn’t this a sure loser in court? “Just because something is legal and you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that it actually makes it right to do it.” Some things “clearly affect everyone in the community.” If it’s legal to do on your private property, can you be stopped?

  3. We see here the intersection of law and morality, a hairy edge that many of us have (metaphorically) lived on for thousands of years. More recently it is encapsulated in the question, “Does might make right?” Just because you have the power to do something does it make it right?

    This is an issue so much larger than property rights. But it will work its way through Westport’s legislative process, and we’ll see what comes out the other side.

    • Bill, I can’t imagine any law that could withstand a challenge in court forbidding an owner of a property to cut down trees they own! What am I missing here???

  4. Hey Dan… Wasn’t it true that at least one of the trees was diseased and had rot to the middle? I reread the builder’s reasoning and it seemed sincere. It would have been much cheaper just to leave them. But let’s make him a villain.

  5. great podcast! really enjoyed and learned a lot too

  6. Melissa & John Ceriale

    Dan, thank you for continuing to shine a light on this issue that is affecting almost every homeowner in our beautiful town. P&Z is now working on regulations for tree protection on private property in town.

    During the most recent (open to citizens) committee meeting on this topic, Jimmy Izzo said it most clearly: individual property owners are NOT clear cutting trees. Developers are committing this offense. He is right. It is easier and cheaper and allows them to manage deeper foundations and bigger houses.

    Was one, or even two of those magnificent oaks on Prospect Road diseased? Possibly so. Were all five?? All of which were located in the setback? No. And then to behave like juveniles as described in Mark’s podcast:

    “ I also describe the shocking moment when [people] on the developers property were “cheering as these 100 foot trees were being dead dropped down to the ground…and they would clap like teenage boys who don’t have levels of maturity…it was not only embarrassing, but just confounding…it was shameful, really…it’s almost like the same victory lap that people take when they kill a dear with a shotgun.” Malina responds “Truly adding disgrace upon disgrace – that is disappointing to hear.”

    Hopefully this will help create, thru our Town P&Z’s thoughtful consideration, protection for members of our community that have no voice but that give us our lives. Our trees. They literally give us life. Yes, we must be thoughtful of property rights. Yes, we also must be thoughtful of the larger community as well and fight for what is right for our health and our children’s futures.

  7. Melissa and John, Do the developers own the property and the trees when they’re cutting them down? If the answer is yes, then we face the same question: Can a property owner cut down trees they own on the property they own?

  8. Melissa Ceriale

    Hi Jack. Yes, the developers own the property and therefore own the trees. The same as you and me and all of our neighbors. So therein lies the trick that our P&Z committee are wrestling with at the moment.

    How do we help protect our trees, stop the devastation that this clear cutting is doing to both the air quality we breathe (as well as the water runoff and flooding that is another compounding factor) without causing undo burden on a property owner who may need/want to take down a tree for a probable good reason?

    Fortunately, we have good minds and lots of healthy debate on just this topic. The public should weigh in and Chairwoman Dobin has done a great job in creating a forum for conversation.

    Sadly, no one ever wants to create laws or rules to deal with the lowest common denominator or worst perpetrator of a societal issue. But here we are. Going back to Jimmy Izzo again, homeowners don’t go out one day and say, heck, let’s take down all of the trees in our back yard. But properties get sold and the developer comes in and, understandably for his/her profit margins, go for the least expensive and easiest process.

    Trees and their roots get in the way. They impede drainage systems that are required for bigger and deeper basements than what was there previously. Catchment systems are required (and are expensive) for every new foot of depth dug. Sometimes foundations are raised to save on how many catchements are required per foot of depth. When the new home is done, the land is regraded to the new higher height. Either way, look what happened … even those trees out in the setback are all-of-a-sudden too low for a new landfill height and the tree will be suffocated or the roots are in the way of the required drainage systems. It’s cheaper and easier to just take them down before a new home is built.

    Also, new construction takes lots of contractors and subs. Where do those trucks all get parked? On the job site but away from the construction project. The roots are compacted and a tree dies. Again, cheaper and easier to just take it down before a new home is built.

    There are lots of reasons why this has been occurring for way too long. But we are at a point where, due to climate change/over development/rising ground water from the loss of trees over the last twenty years/name your reason here, we are called upon to treat these life-giving trees with far more respect and care than we have done so up to now.

    Let me state here that I don’t identify myself as a tree hugger nor an environmentalist. But I watch with alarm at what is and has been happening around my home and drive around and see it happening all over town. Enough. We need to protect each other.

  9. Melissa, Here’s another thought. A law could create an enforcement nightmare too.