Symbolic tree felled

Sandra Storey

Photo by Clark Johnsen
GOODBYE, TREE—An elm tree at 4 Grotto Glen Rd. that became famous for the ongoing fight to preserve it last year was cut down and hauled away early in the morning of June 15.

HYDE SQ.—Clark Johnsen, a longtime resident of Grotto Glen Road, was awakened by the sounds of a power saw on the morning of June 15. What he saw and ended up documenting was the systematic removal of an elm tree next door he and others had defended for months.

Johnsen told the Gazette local residents had spent “literally hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours to save the tree.”

Kathy Holland, who was once photographed by the Gazette hugging the elm with Johnsen, said on Monday she was “devastated, heartbroken, upset and angry” about the trees removal.

The elm at 4 Grotto Glen Rd. became the focus point of some neighbors’ protests that trees should not be destroyed to make way for the development of affordable housing there and for renovations by the city to Jefferson Playground across the street. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) was selected by the City of Boston to develop affordable housing on that and other city-owned lots in Hyde/Jackson Square identified during a community process involving the city and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council several years ago.

The elm also became a symbol of the basic, ongoing conflict in JP between development and green space so often marked early in the construction process by the removal of trees residents are accustomed to enjoying.

On Tuesday, JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal told the Gazette that the new owner of the house, Kisha Smith, probably had what Thal called the “damaged” tree removed. JPNDC itself “did a lot of work to try to preserve the tree,” he said, including redesigning the house, eliminating a sidewalk, moving a path and building a retaining wall. They also pruned, fertilized and watered it. But, he said, an arborist had said the tree was already “compromised.”

Smith could not be reached for comment for this article.

There are very few regulations governing tree removal, especially on private property, in the City of Boston. Although some residents told the Gazette this week they thought the Boston Parks Commission must approve the removal of trees from private property within 100 feet of a park, that is not so, according to Parks Department spokesperson Mary Hines.

A Parks Commission hearing last year about the planned development on Grotto Glen did bring out much comment about the removal of trees, especially the elm, but the regulation that spurred that hearing was one that calls for review of any development within 100 feet of a park. The public can bring up any issues that concern them about a development at such hearings.
JP Trees

An new organization, JP Trees, was formed last year in response to the ongoing issue of tree removal in the neighborhood.

JP Trees and Earthworks, another local non-profit, reported this week that as of June 15, 100 local residents had signed up to have a tree or trees planted in their front yards. The trees planted by these local stewards will are being called “community trees” because, the written report said, “the whole community will share the benefits they provide.”

Whereas a Boston street tree is able to live only an average of eight years, the report stated, front yard trees, cared for by their stewards, can live a century or more. The older a tree, experts say, the more livable it can make a city. Old trees provide cooling shade in summer, block winter winds, absorb city noise, clean the air and water of pollutants, produce oxygen, control erosion and bring beauty and higher property values to the neighborhood.

Nearly half of the 100 trees have been planted so far, and JP Trees and Earthworks will be planting through the fall.

The two groups expressed thanks to the volunteers, the stewards and the local businesses who have provided support for the planting efforts. They thanked Bella Luna, Sweet Finnish, and Harvest Market for the “fuel” needed (food and drink) for the volunteers and Central Congregational Church, Curtis Hall and the June Bug Café for providing meeting spaces.

Anyone interested in receiving a tree or volunteering may contact Gretchen at Earthworks at 442-1059 or e-mail: [email protected]

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