Tag Archives: tree warden

Ceriales: Tree Warden Needs More Clout

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.

Pyramid grasses on Prospect Road. (Photo/Cindy Shumate)

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.”

Looking northeast, on the Ceriales’ property. (Photo/Cindy Shumate)

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.”

The Prospect Road meadow. Trees and grasses work harmoniously, aesthetically and environmentally. (Photo/Cindy Shumate)

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.

If A Tree Falls…

Because he’s our tree warden, many Westporters assume Bruce Lindsay controls every tree in town.

Nope. According to state statute, tree wardens control only “trees (and shrubs) on public road or grounds.”

So Lindsay oversees approximately 120 miles of town-owned roads and rights of way. He also works with Parks and Rec and the Board of Education on their properties as needed.

Lindsay does not manage trees on private property, private roads and driveways, state roads, state parks, commercial property or non-profit private lands.

So what happens when a tree falls from one private property onto another? Who’s responsible for clean-up and damage?

Negligence? Or act of God?

Negligence? Or act of God?

Lindsay says that’s usually a matter of common law (case law), not statute. The process falls under the “act of God” rules. The affected neighbor pays for his own property damage — including tree removal, clean-up and related expenses.

Lindsay emphasizes: “The homeowner has no duty to his neighbors for property damage resulting from trees and branches falling from the homeowner’s property, especially when due to a true ‘act of God’ such as a severe wind, rain or snow.”

However, he adds — citing the state Office of Legislative Research — “as a general rule under the common law, a property owner has a duty to maintain the trees on his or her property in a way that prevents them from harming a neighbor’s property.

“If the property owner knows, or reasonably should know, that a defect in the trees (e.g., rot) poses an unreasonable danger to others, the owner must eliminate the danger. If the owner does not, he or she may be liable for the damage the tree causes.”

A well-maintained tree is a beautiful thing.

A well-maintained tree is a beautiful thing.

Lindsay often fields calls from residents who say that a neighbor’s dead trees hang over their yard, yet nothing is being done about them. That’s when it’s time to send a certified letter, and ask for relief in 30 days.

However, Lindsay emphasizes that no law requires this. Still, he says, it helps to have your complaint in writing.

Lindsay recommends that a homeowner hire an arborist to perform a ground-level assessment of surrounding trees, and issue a report of the findings. There may be a small fee associated with this assessment, depending on the company and intent to perform work.

But it’s the right — and neighborly — thing to do.

Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree…

…at least, not the towering one at Town Hall.

Alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti has long admired the apple tree at the foot of the old Bedford Elementary School, just above the Myrtle Avenue stone wall.

Town Hall 1

In fact, he picks apples from it every year, and makes a pie.

This year, he may have to go to Stew’s.

Yesterday, JP spotted a fresh new sign on the trunk of the old tree:

Town Hall 2

The notice — posted by the tree warden — says that “this shade tree, the property of the Town of Westport,” will be removed in 10 days, or thereafter.

“Any person or organizations” objecting to the removal must appeal in writing within 10 days. The address — 110 Myrtle Avenue — is the very same building at the top of that handsome lawn.

How do you like them apples?




Westport’s Warden: Not A Tree-mendous Job

Between school vacation and the news story’s placement on an inside page (below the fold), many Westporters may have missed a very interesting Westport News piece on Wednesday.

Jarret Liotta described Westport’s Tree Board — a 3-person body “hoping to plant the seeds of renewal for its role in town government,” in areas ranging from education and outreach to political action.

Westporters are very protective -- but also ambivalent about -- our trees.

Westporters are very protective — but also ambivalent about — our trees.

Trees are on every Westporter’s mind these days. We don’t like them toppling power lines whenever the wind blows. But we also were upset when a number of them suddenly disappeared from Main Street just before Thanksgiving.

Westport’s Tree Board is seeking ways to influence public discussion of trees — and to get the public interested in the board itself.

But perhaps the most interesting info in Jarret’s story was buried near the end: the fact that Westport has only a 1-day-a-week tree warden.

Also of note (though not mentioned in the article): The tree warden lives about 20 miles away.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes $170,000 “to create a full-time tree warden position and to increase the town’s overall tree work,” Jarret wrote.

But right now — today, as we all love and fear them — there is almost no money for monitoring, removing, planting and pruning trees.

Or for anyone to oversee them.