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Work to begin Tuesday on removing old pin oaks on Kellogg Avenue 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.<br/>FILE PHOTO

    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.
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  • 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.<br/>FILE PHOTO
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The trees are being removed before the expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society building on the corner of North Pleasant Street begins.

On Tuesday, the tree division of the Department of Public Works is expected to cut down the pin oak that is ill, closest to the entrance to the parking lot used by patrons at Rao’s Roastery and Panda East. Last week, a Western Massachusetts Electric Co. tree crew removed some of the upper branches near the power lines.

Tree Warden Alan Snow said that the use of an air-spading technique, in which dirt was blown away to trace the roots more than two feet below the ground, revealed that the healthy tree’s three to four main roots, each 4 to 8 inches in diameter, extend below the existing parking lot and directly into the construction zone.

“Each of the roots went straight out to the parking lot. They would have to be cut to put the foundation in,” Snow said. “There’s no way the tree could survive that amount of root loss.”

While the tree might live another three to seven years, it would slowly lose its strength and become a threat to public safety, Snow said.

“My recommendation is the tree be removed now rather than waiting for it to become unstable and fall over in the wind,” Snow said.

Because of this, the tree, which Public Shade Tree Committee and members of the public had hoped could be saved, will be cut down by a contractor hired by the church. The church also will not be responsible for the more than $3,400 in replacement costs usually associated with taking down a healthy tree because Snow asked instead that the money be spent on the air-spading.

The Unitarian church is planning to 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.

Hope Crolius, chairwoman of the Public Shade Tree Committee, said while it’s not the outcome she and others members had hoped for, the church did all it was asked.

“We feel it was fair. We literally dug to the root of the matter,” Crolius said. “We’re happy to know that a decision is being made based on a thorough investigation. We are proud of our stand for this tree.”

Crolius said four pin oaks on the street were planted 113 years ago by town’s first tree warden George Stone.

The two trees that will remain standing are healthy and show no signs of deterioration, despite their proximity to the church and the road. Snow said these will be pruned to ensure that branches aren’t regularly falling onto the church’s roof, though their roots will continue to push up the pavement of the adjacent sidewalk.

Snow will also work with the church on root zone protection for the two trees, with horizontal boring for upgraded sewer and gas lines that avoid the roots, he said.

Snow said planning needs to be done for tree replacements. The problem on the street is a narrow right of way and the need to get private property owners’ permission for plantings.

Crolius said she would like to work with others on a vision for the street and whether efforts should be made to save the large trees or whether it is time to begin anew.

“Our committee hopes to get a larger dialogue going,” said Crolius, including property owners, merchants and town boards. “Let’s be of one mind as we go forward, rather than the agony of tree-by-tree discussion for everyone.”

She expects initial conversations with the environmental committee at the church about where new trees could be planted.

The shade tree committee next meets June 12 at 4 p.m. at Town Hall, and will invite residents to offer input on a plan for Kellogg Avenue.

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