BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — MIDDLETON — The state has agreed not to clear-cut mature trees along the perimeter of the construction site for a new, $47 million state Department of Youth Services facility while both the state and the town hash out ways to spare some of the trees, Town Administrator Ira Singer said.
The consensus paves the way for work on the youth service center to continue.
“The town also stated it would not object to the restart of the construction project as long as (the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) agreed not to cut or damage any of the perimeter trees identified in the town’s proposal and presentation,” Singer said in an email.
About 40 people came to Fuller Meadow School on a snowy Tuesday night for a special Conservation Commission meeting on the issue. Attendees included Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, state Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers, selectmen and about two dozen residents.
Representatives of the state’s juvenile justice agency and the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance were also on hand to discuss a proposal to clear-cut trees at the project site, off the west side of Gregory Street, about a half mile from Route 62, on the former Danvers State Hospital property.
The impending tree clearing raised the ire of neighbors and town officials who said some tall trees screening the site should be spared.
“I think everyone went into that meeting expecting the worst, but everyone came out of it very good,” said Dennis O’Brien, a neighbor opposed to the tree-cutting. He said Conservation Commission Chairman Tom Skinner made a good case for preserving the trees, with the town using slides and pictures to present its case.
As for the state, O’Brien said: “They really seemed, I think, to listen.”
Middleton plans to appoint a task force of town officials, state project officials and neighbors to review the town’s recommendations and present them to the Conservation Commission and selectmen.
“The commonwealth looks forward to working with the designated task force to have an open and collaborative discussion,” said Carole Cornelison, commissioner of the Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, in a prepared statement.
Residents have complained that clear-cutting of mature trees would remove their scenic views, as well as screening for the youth detention facility, while trees to the south of the project provided a sound buffer from Danvers Fish and Game Club across the Ipswich River.
The state had informed the town of its intentions to cut down the trees in mid-January, touching off a request from the town to stop until the state and the town could review the options. The town maintained it had little input because the state developed its landscape plans.
A report last month by the project’s architect indicated that while they understood neighbors’ concerns, they still recommended cutting down the trees and replacing them with new ones.
The town presented possible changes to the state’s landscaping plans, describing how various tree buffers screen the site and how some trees could be saved.
“We believe the town’s alternative landscaping plan will save a large majority of the 158 mature trees around the perimeter of the new building and grounds,” Singer said.
The facility is scheduled to be completed by October 2015.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.