WALLINGFORD — The second phase of downtown tree removal and replacement is underway.
On Tuesday, Public Works Director Henry McCully, the town’s tree warden, placed removal notices on 38 pear and oak trees lining Center Street from Route 5 to North Main and South Main streets. They were planted as part of the town’s streetscape improvement program in the mid-1990s.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the trees are scheduled to be removed and replaced this fall because they’ve “gotten too large for the setting.”
Sidewalks along Center Street and openings where trees emerge from the sidewalk are too small to allow the trees to continue growing, he said, “especially where the buildings are too close.”
By planting smaller trees, the town looks to avoid sidewalk issues, free up pedestrian space and keep the downtown area “looking aesthetically attractive,” Dickinson said.
The town removed 28 Callery pear trees on Quinnipiac Street this spring, replacing them with the same species. Dickinson has said the town plans on replacing trees along Center Street and North Main and South Main streets over the next two years as part of a tree planting program. McCully could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Downtown trees are not meant to be permanent, Dickinson said. They are meant to be replaced every 10 or 15 years. “These are ornamental trees. They can’t stay here for 30 or 40 years.”
Center Street is Route 150, a state highway, unlike Quinnipiac Street. According to state statute and local ordinance, the tree warden is responsible for the care of trees on all public roads and grounds “except those along state highways.”
Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Thursday the town would need permission to remove any trees on state property.
“There’s no question they would need DOT permission to do it,” he said. “It’s on state property. You can’t touch anything on state property without DOT permission.”
Nursick said he was unable to find out Thursday if the town had asked or received permission to proceed with the work.
Asked if the town needs permission from the state to proceed with tree removal, Dickinson said, “not to my knowledge.”
“As far as I know, that’s our responsibility,” he said. “We put in the sidewalks and bricks and did the streetscape work and installed lamps.”
The town planted trees on Center Street about two decades ago.
Town Engineer John Thompson said the town has traditionally maintained “all amenities within the state right-of-way” on Center Street, including trees.
According to state statute, any member of the public opposing tree removal on Center Street has 10 days, or until Sept. 5, to notify the tree warden in writing.
Once an appeal is filed the tree warden is statutorily required to hold a public hearing. Within three days after the hearing, the tree warden must approve or deny the appeal.
Within 10 days of the decision, an appeal may be filed to the superior court. If a tree constitutes an immediate public hazard, the tree warden is allowed to remove it without prior notice, according to state law.
Town Councilor John LeTourneau, who owns a business on Center Street, said he will request a hearing.
“I want to know why all the trees need to come out,” he said.
Removing overgrown trees is fine, he said, but not all the trees along the street are overgrown. “Some need some slight pruning.”
Pruning is not an option, Dickinson said. “You can’t cut off the top of the tree.”
Even if the town were to prune, the trunks would continue to grow and disturb the sidewalk, he said.
On July 9, the town opened bids for the tree planting program, revealing that only one company — Don’s Landscaping & Tree Service of West Haven — replied.
The bid spans three years. In the bid, the town specified its preferred trees, with the Little Leaf Linden first.
The Callery pear was second. Between July 2014 and July 2015, the company can furnish and plant the Linden at $490 per tree, compared to $450 for the Callery pear.
In 2015-16, the Linden will cost $540 per tree, and the pear tree $500. The Linden comes in at $570 in 2016-17, versus the pear tree at $570. The bid does not include the removal of existing trees. The most expensive tree on the list is the Red Oak, reaching $600 in 2016-17. The oak is the town’s third preference.
Downtown tree removal has been a contentious issue in recent years. When McCully posted notice last summer that the trees on Quinnipiac Street would be removed, a letter was filed prompting a hearing at Town Hall. McCully chose to proceed with the removal. The trees were replaced earlier this summer. In 2012, a public hearing was held by McCully with regard to the removal of six trees at Fishbein Park, next to the former train station. The trees were also eventually replaced.