, Salem, MA


February 20, 2014

Our view: State makes a poor neighbor in Middleton

The border area between Middleton and Danvers is one of the prettiest suburbs in the area. Its trees, rolling hills and widely spaced homes lend a small-town feel just miles from busy Route 95.

But the area is also home to several sprawling state and county buildings, including the Middleton Jail, the new Essex Technical High School, Hogan Regional Center, and soon, the new $47 million North East Regional Youth Service Center. At times, conflicts arise among the agencies in charge of those properties, town officials and local residents.

The latest disagreement involves the proposed clear-cutting of trees for the youth service center, and it’s clear the state has done a poor job of both listening to neighbors and communicating its intentions to those affected by the project.

Residents are incensed by the state Department of Capital Asset Management’s plans to mow down 158 mature trees along a 1,500-foot border of the site. The overall plans call for replacing a former youth detention facility at the site with the 70,000-square-foot youth service center. The trees that would have shielded the view of the government building from the rest of the neighborhood would be gone.

“You are taking a soft view and making it hard,” said Cheryl Dyment, a former Danvers School Committee member who now lives on Gregory Street in Middleton.

The state says the trees need to go to make way for heavy construction equipment. John Paul Whitcomb, an arborist working for DCAM, noted that the trees, a mix of Norway spruce, hemlock and maple, were healthy, but added, “Are they worth saving is a totally different question. Who knows how many years you could get from them?”

Here’s one answer: Zero more years, if you cut them down.

But this conflict is not really about trees. Trees are cut down and replaced all the time, and there are very few “original” trees in local suburbs. Even residents realize things will change in their neighborhood. What they are most upset about is the fact that DCAM is acting like a bad neighbor, one that doesn’t seem to be interested in hearing what they have to say.

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