, Salem, MA

June 22, 2009

Trees axed for parking at college's 'green' building

By Chris Cassidy

DANVERS — North Shore Community College touts its proposed allied health building as a model of green technology, complete with solar panels, wind turbines and rainwater harvesting.

But last week, the college embarked on the construction of its $32 million Health Professions and Student Services Building by clearing an acre of mature, 60-foot trees that neighbors say was a habitat for deer and other wildlife.

Now, neighbors say an important natural buffer between their homes and the college has been demolished, leaving them vulnerable to bright car headlights and noisy motors from the proposed parking lot across the street.

"The whole neighborhood is different," said Edward Fallon of Hazen Avenue, in a small area of Danvers called Hathorne.

Fallon said the college never told neighbors it planned to ax the trees or that the parking lot would come so close to the street.

"There was no discussion ahead of time, no planning, no attempt to leave us any kind of buffer for the neighborhood," he said.

The 140-space parking lot is part of the college's plan for a new health professions building. The three-story facility will provide more space, equipment and labs for the nurse education, veterinarian technology, physical therapy and other health care programs.

College President Wayne Burton said they had to provide more parking to make up for the 300 to 400 spaces that will be lost temporarily during construction. To accommodate students by the time they return in September, crews had to start the parking lot construction right away. Burton said the college went ahead as soon as it consulted with the project's general contractor rather than wait another year for a window of opportunity.

"We didn't really get the green light to start the project until a month ago," Burton said. "I wasn't trying to withhold information. We just didn't know the information."

The college held a meeting with neighbors on June 10 and plans to meet with individual residents this week. It also plans to take steps to restore as much of the natural buffer as it can.

"I absolutely respect the neighbors and their opinions," Burton said. "A set of circumstances occurred that was out of our control. We'll do everything we can to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood."

State Rep. Ted Speliotis said he visited the Fallons' house and attended the meeting with neighbors. While he said he'll work to help minimize lights and other annoyances, he added that the college needed more parking for its new facility, and a parking garage wasn't an option.

"Life can be ironic," Speliotis said. "The project is being touted as a green project, but there are some realities to the world. ... People would be very angry if people started parking in the roads because there isn't any parking."

Burton said the green technology is still a major distinguishing trait of the new facility.

"This will be the first building in Massachusetts to actually produce more energy than it consumes because of the way it's designed," he said. "We can restore some of the trees we're using. We can't restore some of the oil we're using."

Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at ccassidy@salem