Pear tree removal on Clough Lane delayed

Tisbury town administrator told selectmen the town has more time to determine if the trees are public shade trees.

Pear trees in full bloom on Clough Lane. –Tony Omer

Town administrator Jay Grande told Tisbury selectmen on Tuesday that the removal of two Bradford pear trees on a property on Clough Lane in Vineyard Haven has been delayed. Mr. Grande spoke with the building contractor, and the town now has more time to find out if the trees, a variety of the Callery pear, are considered public shade trees, which would bar the property owner from cutting them down.

Residents have expressed concerns about their possible removal. The public was alerted after the building contractor, who is building a guest house, requested on behalf of the property owner that the trees be cut down.

“They’re going to allow us some additional time for due diligence with our town files, in terms of if there’s anything that would point us in the direction that these trees are under the shade tree jurisdiction of the tree warden,” Mr. Grande said.  

Property owner Carol White wrote a letter to The Times on Dec. 27, responding to residents’ concerns. The two trees, she wrote, are in front of the new guest house, and are both “fragile and malodorous.” She considered them problematic because of their location.

“I too admire the lovely white blossoms and the fall colors, but these unstable and smelly trees are too close to the house and the outdoor gathering spaces,” she wrote.

On Dec. 20, the Tisbury board of selectmen unanimously agreed to voice concerns in a formal letter to Ms. White, urging her to reconsider the role the trees play for the town.

Director of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Tisbury tree warden Ray Tattersall told selectmen at the Dec. 20 meeting that he and a certified arborist assessed the property and determined that the trees, although healthy, are not on public property. He said that according to state laws, if the trees aren’t on public property, “we have no authority as tree wardens to tell them what they can do and can’t do.”

A tree is considered a public shade tree, he told selectmen, based on the location of its trunk, not where its branches hang. “A public shade tree isn’t what hangs into the road; it’s based off the trunk of the tree,” Mr. Tattersall explained during the meeting.

Still, many residents have claimed that the trees were planted by the Friends of Tisbury as public shade trees. A public hearing is required before a public shade tree is cut down.  

Paul Foley, Development of Regional Impact (DRI) coordinator at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), told The Times on Tuesday that he made this case to Mr. Tattersall and Tisbury selectmen under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 87, referencing both Section 1 and Section 7.

The law states that all trees in a public way are considered public shade trees. In an email to The Times, Mr. Foley said that his reading of Chapter 87 Section 1 is that the responsibility is on the property owner to prove that they are not public shade trees as opposed to the Town proving that they are.

Mr. Foley said, however, that according to the tree warden, a document must be found from the original property owners who granted the town the right to plant the trees. If that document cannot be found, then the trees are not subject to the protections of Chapter 87. Mr. Foley said that part of Section 7 does say that written consent must be obtained by the property owner, and that he hopes Mr. Tattersall or Mr. Grande are able to find the document.

“However, Section 1 acknowledges and anticipates the potential for poor record keeping due to the passing of time, which is why the law appears to put the onus on proving that they are not public shade trees rather than the other way around,” Mr. Foley said in his email.

Mr. Grande told selectmen on Tuesday that he hasn’t found any records directly related to the Friends of Tisbury and that, at this point, it was only speculation.

But Matt Tobin, owner of Tea Lane Nursery in Chilmark for the last 40 years, told The Times on Wednesday that he planted roughly 25 trees on Clough Lane in 1971 with the Friends of Tisbury, as part of a beautification program for the town. They were planted with the specific purpose of serving as shade trees.

“I literally planted all of those trees,” Mr. Tobin said.

Back then, the trees “weren’t much more than broomsticks in size.” He recalled the street without any trees, and said that planting them certainly beautified it.

“My take on it is that at that time, it was done by Friends of Tisbury, which I felt represented the town, and that they sought and got permission from the landowners to beautify the street,” Mr. Tobin said. “And as far as I know, everybody was real happy about it.”

As someone who grew up in Tisbury, he said not only would he like the trees to stay, but that — having saved a lot of trees in his years as a landscaper — he’d be happy to give his time to the property owner to prune them.

The trees on Clough Lane have a special meaning to Mr. Tobin, as well as many others.

“There’s always a little bit of me in everything I plant,” he said.