I helped write Lexington’s original tree bylaw as a member of the Tree Committee in 2000. Its text was approved by Town Meeting in 2001. The Town can immediately improve the effectiveness of our tree bylaw. Here is how.

The bylaw specifies that “When major construction or demolition is planned, the owner of the property shall submit to the Building Commissioner as part of the application for a building or demolition permit a site plan […] showing all existing trees on the property of six-inch DBH or greater. The owner shall also submit the tree species, if known, location, DBH for all trees on the property of six-inch DBH or greater, whether or not they are proposed to be removed, and for any trees six inches DBH or greater that are proposed to be removed, the reason for removal and alternatives to removal considered.” in its §120-8 B.

The by-law designated the building commissioner as watchdog because Town counsel pointed out that state law makes a tree warden almost powerless about trees on private property: he can only fine violators up to $300, a negligible amount when new houses sell for $2-3 million. But a building commissioner can deny a demolition permit, issue a stop work order or withhold a certificate of occupancy if builders violate the rules — as they now do: most demolition permit applications do not include any §120-8 B information, forcing the Tree Warden to work “verbally” with builders (as our DPW Director tells me).

Our online permitting system can record the §120-8 B information: but of 10 recent demolition permit applications, that information is available in only one case, 1 Braemore Terrace. If one builder can file the required tree information, all builders also can do it — and they will if their incomplete demolition permit applications are rejected.

The Town should ensure that our building commissioner denies a demolition permit when the §120-8 B information (1) has not been properly filed or (2) if the tree warden has not confirmed in writing that the §120-8 B information as filed is accurate and complete.

This will address some of the problems; it will lighten the workload of the tree warden by providing traceable, publicly available information about trees; and it will allow the Town to no longer violate §120-8 B of its own tree bylaw, thereby reducing its legal risks.

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