Letter on Beacon Street Tree Removal Plans

from Sara Cohen, April 24, 2018

 
Dear Mayor Curtatone:
 
I am writing to request that you issue a stop order, immediately, on the ill-conceived, and poorly executed (up-to-this-point) « plan » for the reconstruction of Beacon Street, so that the 7 remaining trees can be spared. 
 
The statement that I submitted to the tree warden prior to the meeting is attached. My biggest unanswered questions, in case you don’t make it through my formal statement below is:
 
Who, from the city of Somerville, read the plan that  the engineering / design consultants ( I believe their name is DCI) created?
 
Who signed off on the final plan?
 
Who authorized the city to pay their invoice?
 
FYI, the meeting last night was an informal back and forth discussion, rather than one where people walked up to a lectern and spoke or read statements. At one point we did ask for a show of hands, and everyone there was unanimously opposed to the removal of the trees.
 
My written statement:
 
My name is Sara Cohen and I live at 373 Somerville Ave, but also own two condos on Durham Street — one of which I plan to eventually live in.
 
At the last public meeting, which I reviewed online, I was a bit taken aback to hear a city official refer to the trees on Beacon Street as presenting « a conflict » to the construction project. Allow me to point out that the conflict is with the lousy design that the city paid for.
 
Everyone here knows how important trees are to health and happiness. Those are the big reasons to preserve each and every mature shade tree in Somerville.
 
As a real estate broker, I was curious as to how I could put a dollar value on the impact trees have on a property. And, coincidentally, today was the first time that I’d ever looked on the Tree City USA website, and I learned a few things.
 
“ Properly placed trees can increase property values from 7–20%. Buildings in wooded areas rent more quickly, and tenants stay longer. » While I never take these sorts of pronouncements as the Gospel, especially in r/e where everything is really a reflection of local conditions, let’s just work through these numbers for a moment.
 
I called the city assessing office this afternoon, and the assessor told me Somerville real estate, in total is about $13.5 billion. Eyeballing the somerville map, and drawing a few lines to make my own estimates of space, I’m going to guess that properties on Beacon Street, plus all the streets directly abutting Beacon Street, may equal about 5% of the value of housing stock in Somerville.
 
If you go with my very very rough estimate, then we are talking about a possible negative impact of between $47 million dollars and $130 million dollars. That’s calculated off of my incredibly rough estimate of $675,000,000 of property in close proximity to Beacon Street.
 
As a point of full disclosure, I was out looking at properties this weekend, and Somerville is certainly very hot, prices are higher than last year. BUT the sort of impact that the tree cuttings on Beacon Street could have, is likely something that would get factored in over time, anyway. 
 
My point is that people value trees in a very big way. When you break it down the way I just did, it tends to catch everyone’s attention in a unique way. People pay more money for homes with mature foliage for many reasons. 
 
And I would like to suggest that everyone who works for the city of Somerville read the page on that website that’s called Benefits of Tree City USA program, because that ethos should be top of mind for anyone who works for the city of Somerville. It’s not a campaign slogan. 
 
I might also direct you to the web page on the Beacon Street Construction project, that juxtaposes existing images of Beacon street with the proposed renderings. All of the pictures that I saw of the “proposed renderings”  show a very verdant Beacon street, without any of the mature trees missing, and some with additional plantings.
 
The tragedy that took place on October 2 has altered the face of Somerville for at least a generation. Someone should take responsibility for the plan that got sent to MassDOT. We deserve to know who was responsible and how this happened. My guess is there are plenty of records that can help us fill in the blanks. I am looking forward to an explanation, and then compensation - somehow, from some fund somewhere, that pays for a replanting of trees much larger in size than the spindly saplings that are on the current schedule. 
 
Thank you.
 
SARA COHEN
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
mobile: 617-281-9825
Residence: 373 Somerville Ave, Apt E, Somerville, MA
Owner:  21 Durham Street, Somerville
      21 1/2 Durham Street, Somerville
 
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