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Baldcypress tree on Union Street slated for removal

This baldcypress tree, a rarity in New England, will be removed to make room for a church parking lot. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

WESTFIELD – A mature baldcypress tree at 102 Union St., which is slated for removal to make room for expansion of a parking lot for the Full Gospel Church, has been central during the discussion of the permitting process.

The expansion, which was permitted by the Conservation Commission on Sept. 22 after several meetings, is now in the Planning Board for site plan approval and a stormwater permit. The Full Gospel Church at 110 Union St. is looking to add parking spaces on the adjacent lot of 102 Union St. where a single family home was razed. The mature baldcypress sits in the proposed lot.

Planning Board members, during the Oct. 6 public hearing for the project, talked about the baldcypress tree.

City Planner Jay Vinskey first mentioned the tree, acknowledging that keeping it would result in a 10% loss of parking, where the intent of the applicant is to maximize the parking on the site. Vinskey said the board could address the taking down of the tree with additional ornamentals on the site.

“I’d like to see the tree stay where it’s at. It’s a rare tree,” said Planning Board member Cheryl Crowe.

Chair William Carellas agreed with Crowe. “A tree there would be a nice touch to the parking lot,” he said.

“With these older trees and construction around it, they end up dying,” Vinskey said, adding that it was also too big to move, in response to a suggestion from Crowe.

The representative from R. Levesque Assoc, who was present on behalf of the church, said he believed the tree also interfered with the stormwater plan.

The site plan approval at the Planning Board was continued to Oct. 20.

All of these same questions about the tree came up during the Conservation Commission hearings on the Full Gospel church parking lot plan, portions of which are within the buffer zone of bordering vegetative wetlands.

Before approving the plan, several commissioners expressed regret that the mature baldcypress tree located within the proposed parking area could not be saved.

Conservation Coordinator Meredith Borenstein agreed, while also saying the species is not indigenous to this zone, and its location was not in the buffer zone and therefore not within their jurisdiction.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation website, the baldcypress is native to southern swampy areas from Maryland down the eastern coast to Texas, although it has adapted to northern climates given the proper soil and conditions.

“I did talk to the landscape architect who designed it, and he explained why the stormwater had to go there and the tree was in the way… I would like landscape architects to think more about saving trees,” Borenstein said at one of the Conservation Commission meetings.

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