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Kellogg Avenue tree slated for removal gets reprieve in Amherst

Townspeople are pursuing options for saving a century-old pin oak that is slated to be removed as part of a planned expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst on North Pleasant Street.

Townspeople are pursuing options for saving a century-old pin oak that is slated to be removed as part of a planned expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst on North Pleasant Street. FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

The Unitarian Universalist Society, which is planning expansion of its 121 North Pleasant St. building this spring, is working with Tree Warden Alan Snow to keep the tree.

“This is my attempt to save a public asset,” Snow said.

Snow said he received feedback at the meeting Tuesday from residents, a recommendation from the Shade Tree Committee to save the tree and an online petition urging its preservation.

“There was a lot of input about saving the character of the street. That area is very special to a lot of people,” Snow said.

The Unitarian church will build 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.

Peter Lacey, chairman of the building project for the Unitarians, said in an email this appears to be a good solution.

“The UUSA is pleased to work with the town on a mutually satisfactory solution that offers hope for the future of the tree and that recognizes the right of the UUSA to meet its compelling need to expand and improve its meetinghouse on its own property,” Lacey said.

While the church has a right to build on its property, Snow said that any time he authorizes a public shade tree to come down, the applicant is required to pay an inch-per-inch replacement value based on the diameter at breast height, or DBH.

With the DBH 38 inches and a $90 charge per inch, Snow said the church would be expected to make a $3,420 payment to the town if he gave them permission to remove it.

Instead, the church will invest that money into what is called root zone excavation. In this process, a contractor will use extra precautions to determine where the roots extend, Snow said.

“A qualified company will come in to air spade as they’re digging and trace the roots out,” Snow said.

The idea is to determine where the roots go and whether the foundation work for the expansion will prove detrimental.

Construction still may be fatal to the tree, Snow cautioned.

“Everyone is operating with the assumption that the construction will affect too many roots,” he said.

But he said with a significant amount of asphalt in the area, including the road, sidewalks and parking lot, it’s possible the roots have found a different path to water and nutrients.

“It’s in pretty good health for its location,” said Snow, observing that many of the aging trees along the street have been survivors. “They’re surprisingly resilient.”

Snow said the tree is considered healthy, though it could be improved by reducing its crown and trimming.

Carolyn Cave, president of the Unitarians’ trustees, said the church is committed to protecting and preserving the feel of the downtown community and hopes the work on the tree suggested by Snow is successful.

“We also appreciate the tree warden’s sensitivity to our need to expand our building and to remove the tree should it be deemed that construction would inevitably kill the tree despite our best efforts,” Cave said.

A second pin oak tree at the entrance to the parking lot is scheduled to be cut down around the time the project begins in May. Snow said that tree is not in good health and he fears he will not be able to maintain it to keep the public safe.

Snow said there is not a lot of room for new trees and it is unlikely the town would be able to recreate the existing streetscape unless the road were made one way.

Meanwhile, 15 parking spaces will be lost during the project. Town Manager John Musante said when the project is complete, the row of five spaces closest to Rao’s Roastery will be restored.

He is working with church officials on adjusting the lease the town has with the church for the lot.

“We’re trying to retain as much parking as possible,” Musante said.

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