Report by Paula Antolini
February 26, 2018 10:35PM EDT
Numerous Trees Cut Down on School Street in Bethel During ‘Streetscape Improvement Project’
If you stroll along School Street in Bethel, CT, it will look quite different from how it looked in the recent past. You will notice many trees are now gone that were once lining the sidewalk in front of the CJH Municipal Center, providing shade in the hot summer months where people would like to place their lawn chairs. There are also numerous new lamp posts installed on both sides of the street, as shown in the photo above. Below are some “before” and “after” photos showing the trees.
Click on photos to view larger.
“BEFORE” Photo (above top photo): People relax in lawn chairs on the CJH Municipal lawn in Bethel, CT, with view of trees near the sidewalk, 2016. Reminds one of a Seurat painting (2nd photo).
“AFTER” Photo (above): School Street looking towards Wooster Street, showing trees no longer along sidewalk, and lamp bases installed.
According to First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker, this is all part of the Bethel “Streetscape Improvement Project,” a town project he said, “paid by a state economic assistance grant” that was approved by the Board of Selectman and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“You’re not going to find any document that says we’re going to take away trees” Knickerbocker said, “what you’re going to find is an approved project that was voted on by the Board of Selectman a long time ago, it was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission, some time ago, quite a while ago I think, because it took some time to get the contract done on the grant. It was worked on by Janice Chrzescijanek.”
Knickerbocker said, “Janice was the lead on securing the grant and developing the plan. And actually, this is part of, if you go all the way back to the original streetscape, and from like, I’m not even sure what it is, almost twenty years ago now, or maybe it’s more than twenty years, the original plan had a phase one and a phase two. Phase one was the part that we have already today that’s up on Greenwood Avenue and around P.T. Barnum Square. Phase two, which was always part of it, but they didn’t have money to finish it back then, phase two was doing the same thing down here on School Street.”
“As a result of the project the trees had to come out,” Knickerbocker said. “The trees were not put in the right place to begin with and I don’t even know how long they were there, but they never should have been planted in between the sidewalk and the street because there are electrical and other utilities that go in there. So when they went to install the new electrical lines to put in the streetscape lights, the trees had to go.”
“The other thing is that the trees would have had to go anyway because as they grow they start to heave up the sidewalk,” Knickerbocker said.
Knickerbocker said the contractor on the project is T. D. and Sons (or TD and Sons Inc., listed both ways on the website), located at 34 Sunset Hill Road, Bethel, CT, Anthony DiIorio (203) 948-1107 and Michael DiIorio (203) 948-3916.
Knickerbocker stated that they hoped to plant new trees eventually and possibly dedicate them to certain individuals.
“BEFORE” Photos (above): Seniors sit in lawn chairs in the shade of the trees lining the School Street sidewalk, 2016, CJH Municipal Center lawn. Senator Toni Boucher (right) greets residents as they relax under trees.
Bethel Highway Superintendent/Asst. Director of Public Works Douglas Arndt said the small town economic grant for the State of CT was approved in approximately the 2014-2016 time frame. He said that because of budget cuts, new trees were not part of the plan and that it is hoped that there can be sponsorship/fundraising/donations to purchase and install new trees. He said there was only enough in the budget to install the street lamps.
Arndt mentioned that the lights they installed are more energy efficient LED, replacing the aluminum street lights that were there before. The selection of the style of new lamp posts/lights was based on budget, where he said the matching lights to the ones on Greenwood Ave. were too expensive, or tastes had changed.
Arndt stated that the decision to remove trees was made as a “collective agreement” between the Public Works Dept., Planning & Zoning Commission, Land Use Dept., Economic Development Committee and the Board of Selectman.
Arndt said it was a “unified decision due to the impact from the construction project” and that “the trees were interfering with the infrastructure.” He said, “The trees would have died anyway. Some of the trees were at the end of their lifespan” and that it is “in the eye of the beholder.” He also stated that “the trees were inappropriately near the street line.”
While we were on the topic of trees we also asked Arndt and Knickerbocker why the town Christmas tree in P.T. Barnum Square was trimmed at the bottom third of the tree (several feet) to the base, and neither seemed to know anything about this. We wait to hear from both on this subject.
Photo above: Bethel Winterfest 2017 Christmas Tree with bottom 1/3 trimmed off (shown on right of photo).