The proposed removal of two 25-year-old elm trees on Pleasant Street prompted a dispute that culminated in a hearing before the Select Board on Wednesday.
With the Reinemo family - which was seeking to remove the trees from its property at 14 West Creek Road in order to develop a commercial building - at loggerheads with Nantucket's tree warden Dave Champoux, who was adamant that the two elms were "town trees" that should not be removed, the Select Board sought to forge a compromise.
After an extensive debate on Wednesday, the Select Board voted unanimously to allow the Reinemos to remove one of the elm trees at the corner of the lot, but is requiring them to maintain the other tree. To mitigate the loss of the elm tree - which was planted in 1999 - the Select Board is also requiring the Reinemos to plant 10 new trees, including two on the property and eight elms elsewhere around the island, at locations to be determined by the town Tree Advisory Committee.
"I love the trees, I just hope we can come to some kind of fair agreement here," said Karsten Reinemo, who owns the property with his son Matt Reinemo. "I’m 72 years old, I’ve never been to court, or taken anyone to court, and that is not my intention to fight the town on this."
Champoux and the Tree Advisory Committee had reviewed the matter at its August 18, 2022 meeting and determined that the two elms are "town trees" and should not be removed.
What is a “town tree”? According to the town code, a tree must meet at least one of the following criteria to earn that designation:
- The tree was purchased, or its planting was paid for, by the Town
- The tree stands on or has its trunk partially on Town-owned property
- The tree was donated or otherwise conveyed to the Town
- The tree has been maintained more than once by use of Town funds, equipment or personnel during the last 20 years, with the visits separated by more than one year
But in correspondence with the town, the Reinemos disputed the conclusion that the trees were subject to that protection.
"I have no reason to doubt that the town planted the trees or maintained the trees," Matt Reinemo wrote in an Aug. 16 e-mail to the DPW. "However, there is a very clear and accepted system of recording various property rights in Massachusetts (and the United States as a whole) and that system was not followed here. When purchasing this property and researching the deed, there is nothing there whatsoever indicating town trees or the town's rights to those trees. The lot was purchased assuming the trees were now our property, which is a reasonable assumption. If the town wished to assert some rights to these trees, it is essential that the proper information be placed on record in the Registry of Deeds. Since no such recording exists, we stringently reject the idea the town has any legal interest in the property or trees."
Both Champoux and Mary Longacre, a former member of the Tree Advisory Committee, argued the trees were protected as "town trees" and had been planted with a vision to improve the mid-island area.
"The goal was to create a tree canopy along Sparks Avenue and to continue to have elms in the future," Longacre said during Wednesday night's meeting. "These trees are not just town trees in an inconvenient place. They were specifically chosen and purposefully planted with the public good in mind to perpetuate Nantucket’s traditions...They’re special for Nantucket."
The Reinemos cited the development of the adjacent lot by Nantucket Community Sailing, which was allowed by the DPW to remove one of the elms by "mitigating" the loss with new plantings as it developed its dormitory housing on the site.
"I am adamantly opposed to the removal of the two remaining elm trees on this property," Longacre wrote in an e-mail to Champoux and other town officials. "I was shocked that the first one was allowed to be removed, but grudgingly understood the public benefit for Nantucket Community Sailing to build their dorm. However, I thought there was no way the Town would allow the other two trees to be removed. If the Town allows trees that were planted with future generations in mind to be removed while still young and healthy, what is the point in planting them at all? I did not devote my time, energy, and fundraising for the Tree Advisory Committee to plant temporary trees. I am filled with pride every time I go past one of the trees that were planted in the 1990’s when I served on the Committee. It is wonderful to see the canopy we imagined decades ago coming into being. In addition, these trees were planted to sustain Nantucket’s abundance of elms, as we are slowly losing the 19th century plantings. Removing the replacements is untenable."