Shade cast at shade tree preservation plan

The Charlotte Selectboard meeting began on Monday with chair Jim Faulkner sharing the news that the state police had apprehended someone in connection with a rash of thefts and vehicles broken into over the weekend of Oct. 14-15.

Police also have the name of another person who is alleged to have been involved with the crime spree, he said.

“The state police were actually overwhelmed by the number of calls they got in different locations,” Faulkner said. “They did the best that they could to respond to it at the time.”

By the way, the public comments section has been moved to the beginning of selectboard meetings so that people who have something to say don’t have to wait until later in the meeting. The selectboard attempts to have times set for when items on the agenda will be discussed, but with discussions that run over or are shorter than expected, the times are a moving target. The hope is that having the public comments at the top of the meeting will make it more convenient.

Shade tree plan postponed

Tree commissioner Mark Dillenbeck came with a shade tree plan he had hoped the board would approve at that night’s meeting. Despite a public hearing, articles in the newspaper and posts in social media, Dillenbeck said he had gotten what he characterized as “eleventh hour questions and objections from Charles Russell” about the plan.

According to the proposed Charlotte shade tree plan, it was created to respond to changes Vermont made in 2020 to statutes concerning tree wardens. Charlotte’s plan is intended to preserve shade trees on town lands and right of ways by formulating a formal policy on planting and maintaining trees in these areas consistent with the amended state statutes.

Some of Russell’s concerns were wordsmithing changes that Dillenbeck agreed with, such as changing wording that said, when the town is planting trees on private property, the town “should seek” permission from the owner. Russell suggested it was better for the plan to require permission.

Dillenbeck said he and Russell had discussed the shade tree plan just an hour and half before this selectboard meeting. In the 90 minutes since that conversation, he had been thinking about it and felt “this has been on the public docket for quite a long time now.”

Initially, before the long discussion that followed, he requested that the selectboard vote on the proposed plan.

One of Russell’s primary objections was a procedural issue. He said that the statute requires for the “legislative body,” which is the selectboard, to hold a hearing on the issue. Although there was a hearing on the shade tree plan on Sept. 12, and Faulkner and Frank Tenney were present, it wasn’t a selectboard hearing.

Russell also felt the proposed plan was unclear about whether the tree warden was required to determine if all the trees on public ways or town lands were “critical to the art, culture, history and aesthetics of the municipality.”

“I have an objection to that. Any kind of any sapling all of a sudden becomes a shade tree,” he said.

As an example, Russell admitted he had been negligent for a couple of years in maintaining a 500-foot stretch of fence keeping in his cattle. Saplings have grown up through this fence, some of which are almost 2 inches in diameter.

“By this plan, I’d have to get written permission from the tree warden to cut those saplings. That doesn’t make common sense,” Russell said. “I think there should be an ag exemption or a common-sense exception.”

He said landowners should not have to get permission to cut in the right of way in front of their homes.

Selectboard member Kelly Devine said the 14-page plan seemed long and recommended modifying the plan so the language “isn’t so prescribed for tree removal in the right of away.”

Dillenbeck said the proposed plan is better for tree health, while including provisions for maintaining views.

The plan is not designed to keep property owners from cutting saplings in their right of way. Dillenbeck said that, if a tree warden tries to prevent the mowing of 1-inch saplings, “then you probably want to find a new tree warden.”

The conservation commission supports the shade tree plan, said its chair Maggie Citarella. That commission sent a letter to the selectboard conveying its support, and she came to the selectboard to reiterate that support.

The meeting on Sept. 12 was held with the knowledge of the selectboard and with two members of the selectboard in attendance, so Dillenbeck felt that did fulfill the statute’s requirements for a hearing on the shade tree plan.

However, Faulkner said his and Tenney’s attendance was not delegated by the selectboard, and they were not authorized representatives of the board at that meeting.

The group working on the shade tree plan has made a sincere and robust effort to be transparent, Dillenbeck said. The plan has been on the town website for a long time, in addition to a couple of articles in the newspaper and posts on social media.

“We’ve been trying to get people’s attention and some people are just coming to this at the very last minute. That’s regrettable, but it’s not a lack of trying,” he said.

Ultimately, Dillenbeck agreed that moving the meeting back would give him and Russell time “to hammer out any changes” to the plan. The selectboard decided to have the hearing, and possibly vote, on the revised shade tree plan at its Dec. 11 meeting.

“I know this is frustrating, and I apologize,” said board member Lewis Mudge. “There’s a lot of work that’s been put into it.”

Town garage update

The selectboard meeting was bookended with good news from Faulkner. As the meeting wound down, during the time allotted for selectboard updates, he said that, despite some setbacks during the construction of the new town garage, things are proceeding nicely now.

“We’re getting real close to the end of it,” Faulkner said. “I suspect we’ll be in there in about two weeks.”