Because it was so much fun the first time, and because ‘No’ apparently doesn’t mean ‘No,’ we are going to have another debate on whether Library parking lots trees should be cut down to install solar carports. But that’s only part of the potential tree impact of Phase 3 solar carports.
If you are a subscriber to the mayor’s newsletter, or a 300-ft abutter to one of the sites, you’ve received a form of this notice about upcoming community meetings on December 11, 12, and 18, with a list of the 20 sites. (Blue highlighted sites would be done by Ameresco, other by Macquarie.) And it’s on newtonma.gov if you watch enough of those cycling topics that change every few seconds. But there’s no mention of tree removals, and even the Public Facilities Committee is still trying to find out what trees would be impacted. This is despite the fact that the June RFP for this project (on pg 14) asked bidders to indicate how many trees would have to be removed at each site.
V14 regulars may recall the extensive debate in 2016 when Mayor Warren proposed replacing trees with solar carports at the Library. I wrote about it on my own blog, and we had multiple threads on here (links below). The City Council ultimately rejected the plan, 15-8, with only Albright, Auchincloss, Crossley, Danberg, Fuller, Lappin, Leary, and Norton in favor.
Now it’s back in a more aggressive form. The 2016 plan would have preserved trees on the southernmost berm, including the large (30” diameter) red oak. The city’s new plan is to eliminate all the island berms and reconfigure the lot to create a fourth double-row of parking, adding 16 spaces. It’s a little incongruous to hear increased parking being cited as a virtue by this administration, both at the December 5 Public Facilities meeting (audio on the city website), and the last meeting of the Library’s Board of Trustees, which I attended. I have a feeling that “induced demand” would result in those spaces being quickly absorbed by more people coming during peak hours who hadn’t been, or coming more often from other towns.
So the plan is different, but when Marc Laredo noted at Public Facilities that ‘we rejected this before — what’s different?,” Jonathan Yeo interjected “it’s a different City Council.” One councilor said, “I’m glad YOU said that, Jonathan” and a lot of people laughed. So it’s a bit like watching Republican and Democratic presidents flip back and forth on the global gag rule on abortion counseling. Except with trees, if this Council cuts them down, the next Council can’t bring them back.
Carports at the Library would need to be approved by the Trustees, and they clearly feel pressure to do so. Increased parking is enticing (though not the 2-3 months the lot would be unavailable). So is the repaving that would happen with a reconfigured lot. They’ve been trying for years to get funding for replacing 30-year-old paving in the CIP, and were wondering, out loud, when they would ever get repaving if they reject the carports.
But there are many more parking lots with potential tree impacts that are less clear. You can see my attempt to document them here. (3 versions; “better” is the best combination of image quality and file size). Aerial views of many sites show solar canopy grids superimposed over existing trees, or portions of tree canopy, or so close to trees that trees if untouched would shade the carports, and the carports would make subsequent tree pruning difficult. Albemarle Road from Gath Pool to Crafts Street is one example. A beautiful stretch of trees, in a flood zone where we need all the tree canopy we can get. Does Macquarie want to remove these trees? Drastically prune them? Who in the city thought this would be a good site in the first place, with mature trees on both sides of the street casting shadows for much of the day?