Call to Stratford Residents: Save our Trees and Climate

Time For A Comprehensive Environmental Strategy

By: Barbara Heimlich
Editor Stratford Crier, Passionate Environmentalist and Stratford Resident

In Chapter 200-Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vegetation, of the Town of Stratford the statutes call on the Town to promote and protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the residents by providing for the regulation of the planting, maintenance, protection and removal of trees, shrubs and woody vegetation within the Town of Stratford.

The Town of Stratford is to “Recognize and appreciate that trees produce oxygen, capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide air purification, prevent soil erosion, control flooding, assist in water purification, contribute to the quality of life by providing cooling shade, provide habitat for wildlife, reduce noise levels, and aesthetically enhance the landscape.”

“Preserve and protect trees and their canopies as an important environmental and cultural resource that enhances the Town of Stratford’s natural character and heritage.”

“Protect the people in the Town of Stratford from personal injury and property damage caused by the improper planting, maintenance, protection or removal of trees, shrubs and woody vegetation located on Town-owned property.”

“Protect property values by maintaining a healthy and vigorous community forest.”

Lofty ideas and goals that would enhance our community and improve our economic viability. – If only the Town of Stratford lived up to and enforced their own statutes.

So what is my inspiration to wax poetic about trees in The Stratford Crier?  Was it all of the publicity concerning the lack of and shortage of Christmas trees due to climate change?

No, it was a posting on social media concerning the removal of 2 old growth Maple and 6 old growth Oak trees at Longbrook Park so that 4 new concrete tennis courts could be built, as well as seating and lights. Note: present courts at Longbrook are clay.

I was aware that the Town was spending money (to date listed as $750 thousand just for materials) to restore and rebuild tennis courts within the Town, with a goal of having the Longbrook Park tennis courts become home court for the Stratford High School Tennis Team, which, according to those also following the development, also called for bleachers and lights to be installed as part of the tennis courts being built.

What I did not know was that according to Tucker Chase, a local architect, “There are two existing clay tennis courts on Prim Street at Longbrook Park.   There are eight hard courts at Short Beach.  What these ten courts have in common is that they are ALL unplayable because the surfaces are filled with holes – in particular the clay courts appear to have been a training ground for land mine detonations.  Nets rarely appear at these courts which forces tennis players to compete with the schools for playing time at Bunnell or Flood or go to another town. For years the courts have been deteriorating.  If the town cannot take care of the courts it has in our public parks what will be the fate over time of any new ones?  It appears easier to pay an outside contractor, architect & engineers large sums of money to install something new rather than to maintain the good that we have.  I believe the quantity and diversity of the courts in the town are adequate to serve the tennis playing population, but since all of them are currently unplayable we are in the Catch 22 of a self-perpetuating debacle that the town proposes ‘fixing’ by destroying valuable trees that cannot be replaced.”

The Stratford Crier contacted Town Councilwoman Kaitlyn Shake, who also heads the Longbrook Park Commission.   According to Councilwoman Shake she had been requesting documentation since June, and was just provided information on Monday (December 27th) of the description and location of the trees.

The October 6th meeting of the Longbrook Park Commission it was reported by Park Superintendent Chad Esposito, Parks Superintendent, “Current status of Longbrook Park tennis courts: All bids so far have been over budget of 750,000 – therefore non accepted. Updated plan includes removal of 7 mature trees or more which was not included in original presentation to Longbrook Park Commission. Commission is following up for need of 8-24 review and public forum before any work.”

At the commission’s December 1st meeting Mr. Esposito reported:

“Kick off Longbrook tennis court project meeting was Tuesday November 30th. 9 trees will be removed. 14 trees will be replanted”  Questions and concerns were posed to Mr. Esposito re: (1) color scheme of the tennis courts (2) environmental mailer to area residents re: construction of the new courts (3) parking strategies.”

Ms. Shake raised the complaint that the commission was never informed of the final project plan and reiterated that moving forward updates should be emailed to her directly so they can be disseminated to commission.

This lack of information (how about being branded as transparency?) on the plans, despite no public comment, or supporting documentation submitted to Planning, the Town Council approved the plans and tree removal.

When first submitted to Planning they requested that the plan address the water issues for Longbrook and do an 8-24 Review for wetlands, as the project did not address the water issues that would be affecting the courts.  Despite Planning’s suggestions, the Town Attorneys were sent to the next Planning meeting on September 21st to claim that it did not need to do an 8-24:

(e) Longbrook Tennis Courts (Planning Commission Minutes)

Bruce Jackson, Assistant Town Attorney stated the definition of an 8-24 Review, and explained that the work at Longbrook Park tennis courts is not defined as a “substantial change to the park” but is rather just a change to one part of Longbrook Park.  Ms. Attota (Town of Stratford Planning) reminded members that the Planning Commission is part of the entire Town. The Town Council ultimately chooses whether it should be sent to the Planning Commission, and suggested discussing the matter with Parks Department Mr. Staley (Planning Commissioner) stated that it will he Stratford High School’s home court, but feels the process should be done correctly. Mr. Watson (Planning Chairman) noted that Town Council members are not planning experts. Per Mr. Boyd (Planning Commissioner), the Planning Commission was not aware of the plans until after the 35-day window closed. Mr. Watson accepted a motion by Mr, Gerics (Planning Commission member) to request the Town Council re-visit the Longbrook Tennis Courts plans. Mr. Boyd seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

State Representative Joe Gresko, 121st District, weighed in on the proposal (as has others in response to the call for public comment):

“Although the town council has approved the tennis court project at Longbrook Park, I’m appealing the removal of the eight trees, especially the old growth oak trees, which as you know, are icons of the park.  Having worked together to secure the recent $37K grant from DEEP to plant more trees in Stratford to increase our canopy, these existing majestic trees are already accomplishing that goal.  I realize this last minute objection is not what those who worked on the project want to deal with, but I believe it’s critical to preserve as many old growth trees as possible.”

Representative Gresko continued: As a suggestion, altering the tennis court design and potentially moving it closer to the street would potentially alleviate the tree removals.  Stratford is a great town to live, among the reasons, “offering more from forest (trees) to shore.”

Tucker Chase: “It would make much more sense to repair the clay courts at the Longbrook location and not install any more. For those who want hard courts there are the eight at Short Beach & the eight total at the two at Bunnell and Flood schools.  Preserving the fragile ecosystem we have is worth so much more than pouring more than 500 cu. yards of concrete to replace the irreplaceable particularly when there are readily available alternatives – ie maintain the good that we have and leave the trees alone to do their magical work.”

Tom Yemm: “On behalf of my neighbors and myself, I am requesting a public hearing prior to the removal of the eight mature oak and maple trees in Longbrook Park, adjacent to the existing tennis courts, and posted for removal per CGS 23-59, Chapter 451. I do believe that on any occasion in which one or more of Stratford’s ancient legacy trees is scheduled for removal, there is a need for public input. This is one of those occasions; hence my request.”

For several years I have been following what I view as a reckless tree removal plan that has altered our landscape in town for years to come.  Not only has the Town denuded swaths of what formerly was a tree lined landscape that enhanced our Town’s appearance as a quaint New England town, but very few trees have been planted to replace those cut down

Below are a few examples of the town’s incoherent strategy to:

“Preserve and protect trees and their canopies as an important environmental and cultural resource that enhances the Town of Stratford’s natural character and heritage.”

  • Stratford Forward last Summer did a survey and found over 70 stumps or empty tree sites on Main Street from East Broad  to Lordship.  No new plantings.
  • This year, with the town assuming ownership of the Rebecca Bunnell House (next to Sterling House) we witnessed devastation of  another landmark. Denuding the space and leaving a bare house.
  • To date the following amounts have been approved by the Town Council for tennis court upgrades:
  • Wooster Tennis & Pickleball Courts: Hinding Tennis, LLC proposal dated 7/14/2021 in the amount of $304,410 to transition the existing courts on asphalt into (1) tennis and (4) pickleball post tension concrete courts.
  • Short Beach Basketball & Tennis Courts: Hinding Tennis, LLC proposal dated 6/3/2021 in the amount of $450,000 to transition the existing courts on asphalt into (2) basketball and (2) tennis post tension concrete courts.
  • LED Lighting Upgrade & Associated Site Restoration $ 400,000.00
  • Bunnell Tennis Courts $ 40,000.00

Our Lady of Peace Church:  Three long-established silver maples in front of the Church needed to be removed due to damage sustained during Tropical Storm Isaias.  three new trees are planted at the Church grounds.

Don and Missy Kowalsky, of Stratford, complained that trees on their property pose no risk to the power lines overhead – but Eversource disagreed.  The couple’s property sits on a right-of-way for an Eversource transmission line, 26 trees were marked for removal, with 12 more trees for later.  They had lived in their house for over 30 years and said the area they’re looking at extends from Stratford Avenue (Rt. 130) south to Sikorsky Memorial Airport — essentially all of the South End, not including the Lordship enclave.

A tree-removal campaign in 2016 also didn’t sit well with many in town. They were aghast after seeing Huntington Road and Wilcoxson Avenue denuded of their leafy canopies.

“It has been my practice to deny UI’s removal of any tree that is healthy,” said Christina Senft-Batoh, the town’s previous conservation superintendent and its tree warden. “I deny or request modification for pruning that seems excessive.  She added that homeowners should be vigilant to object to any removals proposed by UI that they do not agree with.

“Even if the tree is a town tree, UI will contact the adjacent property owner for input,” Senft-Batoh said. “The homeowner can object to a removal outright, or request modification to a pruning.”

Kelly Kerrigan is the Town of Stratford current Environmental Conservation Superintendent and Tree Warden and, from personal experience has been receptive to those who contact her regarding tree removal or modification to a pruning.

Eversource, the power company that feeds most of Connecticut, said that it’s concerned about trees that have suffered in the drought years of 2016 and 2017, many of which threaten power lines if they came down.  “Sustained drought conditions in New England followed by above-average rainfall this year, combined with insect infestations, are having a devastating effect on trees,” said Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross. He added that the wet summer has made matters even worse — in their weakened state, their branches now have a heavy crop of leaves.  “Suffering from weakened root systems, these trees are now more susceptible to uprooting,” Gross said.

But walk down Elm Street, and you’ll find a successful objection to removing trees.  In 2016 the town had planned to remove many of the old growth Sycamore trees.  Hundreds of Elm Street residents turned out to protest the removal.  They remain to this day!!!!  Kudos to those dedicated and concerned residents – may they serve as an inspiration to all!!!

Trees “-A poem by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Click here to view the Longbrook Tennis Court Replacement Plan

3 replies
  1. Paula Sweeley
    Paula Sweeley says:

    BRAVO!! This is the kind of information that we need to guide us toward decisions that will protect Stratford’s natural assets and simultaneously fight global warming! I hope this beautiful piece of investigative journalism is widely read by Stratford’s citizenry. Bravo Barbara Heimlich 🤗👏👍

    Reply
  2. Marca
    Marca says:

    This is an excellent article and poses even more environmental issues such as lighting. It is now known that nighttime insects such as moths are also pollinators. Overly bright and numerous LED lighting disturbs the natural rhythm of our nocturnal pollinators as well as other wildlife. It also impedes our view of the stars. We need to replace the excessively bright lights, especially at our parks and beaches, with downward facing, less bright lighting. Please check out the International Dark-Sky Association
    for this ever increasing movement as communities are committing to new guidelines.

    Reply
  3. Rich
    Rich says:

    Well written post. I am disgusted with the way the town has handled tree removals. All neighboring towns will post a physical paper notice on a tree to be cut down, allowing for residents to become aware that a change is coming. They have time to protest it and advocate for the tree to stay or be pruned instead of cut down forever. Stratford is unique in that they decided to post tree removals online only. This means, if you live in town, you must constantly monitor the town website to see if trees on your street are slated to be cut down and removed. Totally unjust and unfair. I’ve brought this to the attention of the town, yet they continue business as usual. There is zero accountability.

    The argument they gave, was that if a tree is deemed to be an immediate hazard to safety, they do not have to follow Connecticut general statutes and guidelines which require physically posting notice to the tree itself. Therefore, the “tree warden” can decide that a tree is an immediate hazard, so no posting needs to be made. In short, zero trees receive the public post/notification. If you protest that there was no public notice posted to the tree, they will say, “Well, we deemed it to be an immediate threat to safety, so we didn’t have to”. That is the answer for every single tree slated for removal. The reality is that the town wants the trees to go quickly and quietly without protest.

    Finally, regarding Longbrook Park. Some trees are 100 or more years of age. Old growth trees should be respected and protected at all costs. The town has cut down so many trees without replacing them, that our streets look substantially different than they did in 2016 when I bought a home in town.

    I think the $750,000 tennis court budget would be better spent on hiring additional police officers to ticket the loud illegal exhausts that exceed decibel limits. Ticket the hundreds of cars with illegally black-out tinted windows. Plant inexpensive young trees in spots where they once stood. That would be a much better use of tax payer funds and improve the livability of town.

    Reply

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