Amherst tree hearing to focus on Kellogg Avenue streetscape
AMHERST — At least one giant pin oak that has bordered Kellogg Avenue for a century will be removed to both accommodate an expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society’s building and because it is a deteriorating specimen.
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.