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.
Middleton officials are angry, as well.
Town Manager Ira Singer said Middleton has asked DCAM twice to stop cutting the trees. The town, he said, learned of the clear-cutting on the Friday afternoon before last month’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“Middleton residents should not have to suffer the consequences of losing a 100-year-old tree buffer as a result of poor, hasty and unilateral staging/storage decisions made by construction managers and design engineers,” Singer wrote in an email to project officials.
We agree. All of the affected parties met this week, and the state has agreed to refrain from cutting any mature trees for the time being. DCAM managers say they will consider a town proposal to save most of the trees.
Here’s hoping the state takes that proposal seriously and comes up with a plan that satisfies all parties.
“Nobody is trying to stop the building, and no one is trying to prevent them from cutting any trees,” said Dennis O’Brien, who lives in the area. “But we want some common sense here.”