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Amherst tree hearing to focus on Kellogg Avenue streetscape

But whether a second of these towering trees will be cut down to make way for the project could be decided Tuesday as Tree Warden Alan Snow convenes a public hearing at 4 p.m. at the Town Room at Town Hall.

Members of the Public Shade Tree Committee have advocated for the preservation of the healthier tree, speaking informally to representatives from the church about whether it can alter its plans to preserve the tree.

Shade Tree Committee Chairwoman Hope Crolius said she is certain how members feel about the tree and the canopy it provides for Kellogg Avenue.

“We’re going to recommend to the tree warden to deny the request for removal,” Crolius said.

The Unitarian church is expected to be enlarged with a two-story addition onto the parking lot at the rear of the one-third acre lot. The addition will contain classrooms, office space and a social room, with a new entrance opening onto a renovated plaza adjacent to the 103 Shops building on North Pleasant Street. New trees will be planted on the plaza and benches will be installed.

Members of the society told the committee that they have examined all options on site and off and determined the best course of action is to remain in town center. In fact, they argue, more trees would be removed if they needed to find a site out of town center.

While Snow apprised church officials of costly options for preserving the tree roots, there are still no assurances that the foundation work would be able to avoid compromising the tree.

If Snow denies the request, an appeal can be made to the Select Board as the final arbiter.

Crolius said that Snow will evaluate the current health of the tree and its future health.

“We feel these are historic trees that have endured all sorts of abuses over the years and they are deserving of being designed around,” Crolius said.

The expansion project will also have an impact on the 15-space parking lot the church has leased to the town. Only five of the spaces are expected to remain at the lot that is used primarily by patrons to nearby businesses, including Rao’s, Panda East and Captain Candy.

While one tree is the focus of the hearing, the Shade Tree Committee is also worried about the loss of more than 100 trees along West Street near the Notch, where the state is in the midst of a project to straighten out the road as it descends into Atkins Corner.

In a letter the committee expects to send to the state’s Department of Transportation, members cite concerns over air, land and water quality, soil erosion and the lack of public input. They note the project doesn’t meet the state’s own green goals.

To remedy this, the committee, according to the letter,is encouraging the department to have a person meet with the members: “We would like to start a conversation with a representative of GreenDOT by inviting him or her to a meeting of our Shade Tree Committee.”

Crolius said the state should be better engaged with the town in public forums.

“The state is really a guest in our community. It doesn’t seem right they get to come in unannounced, at least it seems discourteous,” Crolius said.

My first message to Amherst Town Meeting in over four years: Dear Fellow Town Meeting Member, If you have ever grabbed a coffee at Rao's or looked up while coming out of Panda East, surely you have taken note of the majestic pin oaks that line Kellogg Avenue, and have done so for 113 years. Two of them are endangered, one for a good but sad reason -- disease and decay -- the other for a not so good a reason: a construction project. Amherst Town Meeting will be asked to appropriate just over $100,000 in CPA money to restore the Tiffany stained glass "Angel of the Lilies" owned by the Unitarian Church, the same entity that wishes to remove one of the healthy pin oaks on town property (but the roots are on their property). Considering how much taxpayer money the church is requesting for the stained glass renovation I would think they would go out of their way to protect the other treasure that is far more visible to the average Amherst resident. Since the tree will probably come down the first week of May it will be too late to wheel and deal on the floor of Town Meeting when discussing the CPA appropriation for the stained glass window. So I have started a petition on Change.org to allow everyday citizens to send a strong message of support to the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee (who already declared they wish save the tree) and Tree Warden Alan Snow (who I'm equally sure wishes to save the tree) to do everything in their power to SAVE THE TREE. Please consider signing the petition and even better, appearing at the public hearing on Tuesday, April 16 at 4:00 PM in Town Hall to speak for the trees. Thank You, Larry Kelley http://www.change.org/petitions/save-amherst-s-mighty-oak-tree

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