Initial debate at the March 18 City Council meeting showed a closely divided vote,, and Councilor-at-Large Jim Cote chartered the item (postponing it for two weeks) to allow more time for the public to be informed and weigh in. My Letter to the Editor appeared in the March 20 Newton Tab. The Urban Tree Commission has urged the City Council to preserve the Library trees and put solar elsewhere, and the Newton Tree Conservancy board has written to our members to alert them to the impending vote. This document was part of that email:
City Council vote Monday April 4 on cutting Library parking lot trees to install solar carports
I urge anyone disturbed by this prospect to contact the city councilors, because lack of objections to this plan (even though most people were — and maybe still are — unaware of it), has been interpreted as approval.
Our Library parking lot is the greenest in the city. It still has some of the mature trees that were preserved when the parking lot was designed in 1989. And after many years of an insufficient tree planting and maintenance budget, new trees of large-maturing species were planted just a couple of years ago. As a result, the Library lot comes the closest to meeting our zoning ordinance, which recognizes the importance of landscaping in parking lots by requiring one tree for every ten parking spaces when lots this size are altered.
Solar proponents say the youngest Library trees will be moved, or replacements planted elsewhere. But that is no more than required by our Tree Preservation Ordinance, no net gain, and not reassuring when we are still losing hundreds more public trees per year (about 650) than are being planted by the city and Newton Tree Conservancy combined (about 410). At the same time, we are losing private tree canopy to teardowns and other development at a worrisome pace. Development has also led to loss of public trees at Angier and Zervas, to build larger schools with more parking, and reconfiguring Auburndale Square to accommodate more traffic will cost a large traffic island tree. So we should be planting more trees anyway to offset these losses. Not diverting resources to moving established trees.
City councilors were being urged to act quickly, before a state solar incentive program (which makes these installations financially viable) hit its cap. And also told that Newton’s project would reduce carbon emissions. A contradiction, because a capped incentive program means that another community will install the solar capacity if Newton doesn’t. Now that the cap appears to have been reached, the argument has shifted to ‘having more communities on the waiting list will increase pressure to lift the cap.’
We’re also told solar carports at the Library will be “educational,” as if we’re too stupid to think solar is a good idea unless we’re forced to look at it close up. I disagree.
It’s really a question of whether we really want to give up all the other environmental and health benefits of trees, and the aesthetic value of trees in our public spaces. The projected cost savings of Library carports is less than $17,000 per year, or about 20 cents per resident per year. The same cost savings and carbon sequestration figures (equivalent “acres of trees”) being used to justify removal of Library trees for solar could just as well apply to other public spaces, from the Comm Ave median, to Saw Mill Brook Parkway.
Please support the City Councilors who are trying to save our trees in public spaces by sending an email ASAP, in advance of the Monday, April 4, vote, to firstname.lastname@example.org and to the City Council via the City Clerk at email@example.com, in your own words, or by cutting and pasting the following message:
Dear City Councilors,
I ask you to please vote to save the trees in the Newton Free Library parking lot - even the small trees, because they are the large trees of the future. Cutting down trees on our public spaces for profit is a terrible precedent to set. I support Newton's commitment to solar and renewable energy, but not at the expense of our already shrinking tree canopy. I’d like to see more trees in parking lots, as our zoning ordinance requires. Please work to make sure every suitable flat roof, commercial as well as public, has solar panels, instead of cutting down the trees we have. Please support trees where trees can grow, and solar where trees cannot grow. Thank you.
(Your name and street)