Case closed on Clough Lane pear trees

Tisbury town officials will work to better protect trees that are considered public shade trees after learning that two pear trees on Clough Lane will be removed. — Tony Omer

Spring means flowers and flowering trees, and soon the pear trees on Clough Lane in Vineyard Haven will do their part. Most residents love the beautiful white flowers that line the land, but one homeowner on the street has a different view.

“You may be aware that these trees, while beautiful when in bloom, are considered some of the least desirable tree species,” Carol White, a homeowner on Clough Lane, told Tisbury selectmen on Tuesday.

Ms. White has owned a house there for more than 20 years, and two of the Bradford pear trees on her property, scheduled for removal after construction of a new guesthouse, have become a major point of contention in Vineyard Haven.

After a nearly hour’s discussion, Melinda Loberg, chairman of the town selectmen, ended the debate. Selectmen permitted Ms. White to cut down two pear trees on her property.

Ms. White, who brought photographs as evidence, told selectmen that the trees are prone to splintering, especially during storms, and large branches have fallen on her property. The fallen branches, she said, had the potential to cause property damage and even personal injury.

“I worry that such occurrences pose a danger to me, my new guesthouse, and pedestrians or vehicles,” Ms. White said. “In addition, as if the weak wood characteristic was not enough to warrant removing these trees, the fact that the trees when in bloom also emit an odor which smells like rotting fish, this odor so close to the guesthouse and outdoor congregate areas precludes my enjoyment of the open-air space of my property.”

Ray Tattersall, director of the Department of Public Works, told selectmen that legally, the town has no jurisdiction over the trees. For the past six months, the town has made efforts to prove that the trees are public shade trees, but those efforts have been unsuccessful. There is no documented evidence that they belong to the town.

Still, many residents claim the trees were planted by the Friends of Tisbury as public shade trees. Town rules require a public hearing before a public shade tree may be cut down.

Selectman Tristan Israel called for a hearing, on grounds that there is enough anecdotal evidence — a handshake and a newspaper article from the 1970s — that the town received an easement to plant the trees.

Matt Tobin, owner of Tea Lane Nursery in Chilmark for the past 40 years, told The Times in December that he planted about 25 trees on Clough Lane in 1971, with the Friends of Tisbury, as part of a beautification program. They were planted specifically as shade trees.

Absent hard evidence, the town has no control over whether the trees stay or go. Ms. White said there is no easement in her deed.

“Talking to the Massachusetts Conservation and Recreation Department, if you don’t have it in writing, it doesn’t mean anything,” Mr. Tattersall said. “I talked to the Tree Warden Association; doesn’t mean anything. I just want you to know that there are people who agree with what the state law says, and I think if you do not do what Ms. White would like to do, I think you’re breaking the law.”

Ms. Loberg said the issue has made the town “painfully aware” that it lacks a process to care for trees that are considered public shade trees but are on private property.

Selectman Larry Gomez agreed, and he said that although he didn’t want to see the trees cut down, the law permitted Ms. White to do so.

Jay Grande, town administrator, told selectmen that town counsel agreed.

Ms. Loberg said Tisbury will catalogue all shade trees, write a better bylaw to manage them, and more clearly define the tree warden’s role.

“I do think that we have learned some other things through this process,” Ms. Loberg said. “And that is that we haven’t adequately protected the things we care about through a real process, and lists, and so forth. We can just look not too far back to the red-tiled roof at the Santander Bank. So, the town has work to do to catalogue and protect those things that matter to us.”

The town building inspector allowed the bank to reroof its building with asphalt shingles rather than clay tiles, a result that dismayed town residents.