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Tree Article Sprouting Controversy, Debate

Either preserving Belmont's arbor culture or government intrusion into resident's yards.

It’s difficult to predict which warrant articles will garner the most controversy at Town Meeting.

Seemingly simple ones often compel an hour-long discussion; those town officials consider complicated sometimes pass without any comments or questions.

It seems safe to say at this time, however, that – the proposed tree maintenance and preservation by-law – will elicit at least a few emotional responses when it comes before the Belmont on April 25.

The asks for a new by-law requiring homeowners or contractors to replace any protected tree they remove or pay the town for every inch they remove.

Some residents have said the dictates of the by-law are intrusive by allowing the town government to order what homeowners can do with their property.

In addition, town officials including the town's Tree Warden and say they do not have the manpower or funds to take on this additional administrative burden.

Yet Roger Colton, who promoted and helped write the first version of the proposed by-law told Belmont Patch earlier in the month that fees from the new law pay for the additional workload.

Colton said the real opposition to the by-law is not funding problems or more work but a fundamental difference of opinion on local government's role in promoting environmental awareness, one which, he points out, is a sentiment Town Meeting approved two years ago.

"It doesn't matter what language we put in the by-law, it doesn't matter the funding mechanism in the by-law. They were going to oppose it on philosophical reasons, not the fact," Colton said, leaving a Planning Board Meeting earlier in the month where that board voted 3-2 to oppose the by-law.

But that is not the sentiment of the Shade Tree Committee that voted unanimously this week against the by-law as it is currently written.

According to member Ruth Foster, who spoke to the Warrant Committee at its meeting on Wednesday, April 20, the Shade Tree Committee supports the idea of Article 19 but not its guidelines.

She said members think, as it is currently written, the by-law is unenforceable, punitive and unrealistic.

Education rather than by-law

“Our conclusion is education is better than forcing people to save trees,” Foster said. “We think there should be some regulations that would control development (that results in trees being cleared out) and they should be written by people who know trees.”

At an earliermeeting on Wednesday, Angelo Firenze said he is opposed to the by-law and Mark Paolillo said he has some concerns about it.

Last week, the Warrant Committee unanimously voted to recommend unfavorable action on Article 19 at Town Meeting.

Members of Sustainable Belmont, however, believe the proposed by-law is not only a protection of the environment but also will increase the value of one’s property.

At a meeting on Wednesday, April 6, at the, members said they must be ready to defend the wisdom of passing the Tree Preservation and Maintenance By-law at Town Meeting.

“We can expect a lot of push back from this,” said Jennifer Page, pointing out that Town Meeting members should read more about the by-law posted online at sustainablebelmont.net

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