More than half of the 3.5-hour Night #2 of the Wellesley Special Town Meeting this week was devoted to an article sponsored by the town’s Planning Board and Natural Resources Commission seeking to strengthen the town’s Tree Protection and Preservation bylaw, as well a proposed amendment to it that would give invasive species fewer protections.
Article 17, in the words of the Advisory Committee, “proposes to amend the Tree Protection and Preservation bylaw to accomplish three goals: increase the number of protected trees, enhance the protection of retained trees; and improve mitigation for removed trees. This article only applies to large scale renovation and construction, not for ordinary landscaping on single lots not undergoing a building renovation. The intent of this bylaw is to encourage the preservation and protection of significant trees during demolition and construction activities. It is important to note the bylaw does not prohibit the removal of trees, but requires mitigation by either the planting of new trees or contributing, per a set fee schedule, to the Tree Bank Fund.”
Town Meeting members did have questions about the basics of the article, including how the town would enforce the bylaw and how the town’s tree bank works (planting a tree for a tree). Others spoke in favor of the article, citing improved protection of trees from heavy construction equipment by using chain link fencing rather than flimsy plastics.
But what really extended the conversation was a proposed amendment to the article at the 34-minute mark of the meeting, recorded by Wellesley Media, by Town Meeting Member Pete Jones, who is vice chair of the town’s Wetlands Protection Committee. He introduced what he termed a friendly amendment, or a relatively simple change, to the article that would specify protections are for accepted trees but not invasives such as Norway Maples.
“The town is loaded with Norway Maples,” Jones said. “They’re just destroying the structure of our forest.”
These notorious trees are known for reproducing like rabbits, messing up sidewalks via their shallow roots, and crowding out other trees, among other transgressions. Though granted, even Norway Maples do provide some canopy and protect other trees from wind sheer, said Town Meeting members in grudgingly coming the the species’ defense.
Planning Board rep Kathleen Woodward acknowledged Norway Maples “are not our favorite tree” and are worthy of addressing down the road for a possible future amendment, but stated the topic would require more discussion than could be had at Town Meeting. Others, including Advisory Committee, also recommended having this discussion at a later time.
After raising the amendment idea, Jones went to work on his wording, and conversation carried on about the article and proposed amendment.
The meeting did get bogged down during that process, however, as two iterations of the amendment were presented, and process issues came to light.
Town Meeting member Gig Babson had seen enough more than 90 minutes after the amendment proposal was raised, declaring that the process via Zoom got “exceedingly torturous.” This, after she had reached out before the meeting to various parties with some questions of her own about bylaw enforcement in what she figured would help streamline discussion of this article. So much for that plan…
In the end, the amendment got shot down by town meeting members (30 yes, 185 no, 5 abstaining) The article itself was approved shortly thereafter (199 yes, 24 no, 2 abstaining).
Board of Selectmen powers
The Special Town Meeting ended for the night with discussion over something of a sleeper article, #25, which asked Town Meeting “to authorize the Board of Selectmen (now the Select Board, per another article) to promulgate regulations about videotaping public meetings and having those recordings posted on the internet for public access.” The idea is to ensure transparency of government by making meetings available online. Currently, some boards’ meetings are hard to find online, and don’t get us started on their meeting minutes.
The discussion here focused on whether such an article is even needed, or whether the Board of Selectmen is already able to work with other boards to encourage them to get their meetings online.
“The board’s powers are the most significant of any board in the town,” said Town Meeting member David Himmelberger, a former selectman himself. “They can do almost anything except call for an army to invade Weston,” he quipped.
Current Board of Selectmen Chair Marjorie Freiman said the article won’t give “carte blanche” to the board on this matter. “The entire point is to do a public process…” she said, emphasizing the importance of making more boards accessible via livestreaming and recordings.
“We have no intention of passing anything over anybody’s objections, and if it’s deemed appropriate for a bylaw we’d bring it back to Town Meeting as a bylaw once we have rules and regulations ready to go,” she said.
The article passed 123 yes, 84 no, 5 abstaining.
Moderator Mark Kaplan wound up the night at 10:30pm by informing Town Meeting members that they would need to stick around for one more night to address Article 28, a citizen petition proposing a ban on fur sales in town.
He noted that based on the number of emails received by those in support of and opposition to this proposal, and the number of people who wish to speak about the article, another night of Town Meeting would be required. Wellesley College students have come out of hibernation to pepper Town Meeting members in support of the proposal, made by a Wellesley resident and Wellesley College professor.
But the article also has opponents, including retailers who are already struggling to survive businesswise in light of the pandemic.