When it comes to cutting down trees, Westporters seem to fall into 2 camps.
One side is opposed. Neighbors and residents want laws, lawsuits — anything to prevent developers from clear-cutting land to build new homes.
The other side counters that private property is just that: private property. If you want to save some trees, they say, then buy the land yourself.
John Ceriale thinks there is a third way.
He has skin in the game. He and his wife Melissa own almost 10 magnificent acres on Prospect Road. They’ve spent 25 years building beautiful gardens and, most recently, a meadow on their land. They’ve created one of Westport’s most gorgeous streetscapes, and they enjoy sharing it with all of us.
They’ve also watched helplessly as a neighbor behind them clear cut his property. In response, the Ceriales planted 19 trees at the edge of their land to block out a towering new home. That’s not a practical solution for most neighboring.
“I’m not a tree hugger,” John says. “I don’t want to save every tree. Developers and new home buyers do have rights. But clear-cutting land with 60- and 70-year-old trees?
“Let’s talk about deer. They run rampant. No one talks about euthanizing them. Yet we cut these magnificent old trees without a second thought.”
John likens clear-cutting to other projects. “I can’t build a tennis court that would send water onto my neighbor’s property. But clear-cutting can do the same thing. Trees are beautiful. And they also have an environmental and community impact.”
With homes in other parts of the country, John sees how they — and other communities — handle trees. Aspen regulates every tree. The size of every tree that is removed is calculated. Replacements must be planted. In Palm Beach, certain species are catalogued and governed. Permits are required in both places.
In Westport, by contrast, “we look at trees as expendable.”
Part of the problem, he says, is that the tree warden is responsible only for trees on town roads or grounds. He has no control over trees on private property. A Tree Board works with the tree warden, but is similarly restricted to only public land.
John would like to see regulations changed, to give the tree warden more clout. Reiterating the rights of property owners and developers, John says a tree warden and board “can’t be draconian. But no one should be able to strip everything away, either.”
He’d also like to see the tree warden emphasize the important of hardwoods. “Everyone plants maples, because they’re the least expensive. No one is planting oaks, hickories or elms. They’re great trees. We need to encourage that.
“Diversity, as we all know, is hugely important. Just like with the current pandemic, a disease in the maple species will wreak havoc throughout town, with massive impacts.
“We all must think bigger, and with more responsibility for the future of our town and neighbors.”
Westport would be a pioneer in that effort. Most lower Fairfield County towns do not have special tree ordinances, unless wetlands are involved. The only municipality in Connecticut that regulates trees on private property is Hartford (click here).
John and Melissa want to know what “06880” readers think. Click “Comments” below — and send them to OurWestportTrees@gmail.com. They’ll get in touch with you soon.