LONDONDERRY — The recent removal of a row of apple trees alongside Gilcreast Road was legal, an attorney for the town told councilors.
Last month, construction crews cleared a 20-acre former orchard, removing the topsoil to lay the groundwork for 28 single-family homes to be built by The Stabile Companies. Crews left two rows of trees along the roadway.
Some neighbors felt that violated the Planned Use Development (PUD) master plan for Woodmont Commons, which calls for three rows of trees in the perimeter buffer. The town council asked Michael Ramsdell to review the documents in response to their concerns.
Ramsdell said Monday night he found that “no laws, rules, regulations, or ordinances were violated during the process that resulted in the decision to remove certain apple trees and to replace them with crabapple trees.”
Ramsdell wrote in a memorandum read aloud by Town Council Chairman John Farrell that the Planning Board did not exceed its authority in 2018 when it approved the site plan, which included the plans for the apple tree replacement.
Developers say they plan to replant the third row between the remaining two rows with non-fruit-bearing crabapple trees within a 50-foot buffer zone. Resident Jack Falvey has said the third row of trees should have taken precedence over the 50-foot requirement, and he doesn’t approve of using crabapples as a replacement.
The use of 90 Spring Snow crabapples for the third row was clearly described in the landscaping plan, Ramsdell said, adding those details in the subdivision did not require a modification to the PUD master plan.
He said residents upset about the removal of the trees should have raised their concerns with the Planning Board when the site plan was pending approval, or challenged it within 30 days of the board’s approval.
Falvey told the Union Leader he feels like the deal was a “bait and switch.” His interpretation of the master plan guidelines for the perimeter buffer is that three rows would remain “where existing.”
“Which doesn’t mean, ‘where they want to put them,’” Falvey said.
He said that perimeter buffer language was added after a group of about 100 residents applied pressure back in 2013 to include those protections when the master plan was being written.
“That’s why it’s particularly maddening, because we put all this work in years ago,” Falvey said.
Falvey could not attend the Monday meeting, but submitted a written statement, which Farrell read for the public record. In his statement, Falvey said he hoped the town council would vote to pass a resolution expressing opposition to the destruction of the third row of apple trees.
“As sad as I am about the old trees and as sorry as I am to see the orchard land be turned into a housing development ... I would do whatever I could to be sure that the developer will leave the old trees that are left,” Falvey said.
He said he doesn’t want to give up on the third row, but he also doesn’t want to see the remaining two rows replaced by crabapple trees.
Falvey said he has an email group of more than 50 concerned citizens and plans to keep a close eye on planning board meetings moving forward, should the matter of replacing the remaining two rows return.
Woodmont developer Michael Kettenbach could not be reached for comment Tuesday.