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City Council Delays Vote on Tree Removal Moratorium

Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square.
Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square. By Margaret F. Ross
By Declan J. Knieriem and Katelyn X. Li, Crimson Staff Writers

Dozens of Cambridge residents spoke out in favor of a moratorium on cutting down trees at a City Council meeting Monday, prompting an hours-long debate between councillors.

The Council ultimately voted to delay the passage of the moratorium and allow time for more public input.

The proposal would stop granting permits to cut down trees for one year — except under special circumstances — and levy a substantial fine on violators. The resolution cited both the overwhelming public sentiment in favor of a moratorium from a previous public forum and “an urgent need to stop tree canopy loss in Cambridge.”

According to the Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force — formed by the Council in June 2018 — the Cambridge tree canopy fell from 30.8 percent in 2009 to 25.3 percent in 2018, an average net loss of 31 acres per year.

Cambridge residents gave passionate and emotionally charged testimonials in favor of the proposal. Many cited personal anecdotes regarding the loss of trees near their homes.

Shane H. Brodie, a student at the Harvard Divinity School, said he was “horrified” about the removal of 11 mature trees along a public parkland at Alewife Reservation.

“They knew they were doing something wrong when they did this,” Brodie said.

The Divinity School has faced its own controversy about felling trees in recent months after students protested the school's plans to cut down a mature tree on its grounds as part of renovations set for summer 2019.

Despite the public push in favor of the proposal, City Councillor Alanna M. Mallon contested that those present at the City Council meeting may not represent Cambridge as a whole.

“Yes, there are a lot of people here tonight speaking in support of it, but I will say that the majority of Cambridge does not know that this is going on,” she said.

Proponents of the moratorium argued that delaying the proposal would give residents an opportunity to cut down more trees before the suspension is adopted. Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan stressed the importance of immediate action. He said a lengthy delay would prove harmful to tree canopy conservation efforts and argued that “there is quite a bit of knowledge out there on this issue.”

While several councillors advocated the need for a moratorium, others, including Mayor Marc C. McGovern, pointed out that an immediate enforcement would limit public debate.

“We cannot deny people the opportunity to have a chance for input. We wouldn’t stand for it,” McGovern said.

Councillor Craig A. Kelley also voiced his disapproval of a moratorium, saying it would hurt residents who could unknowingly violate the ordinance.

Mayor McGovern and councillors Denise Simmons, Kelley, Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., and Mallon voted for the motion to delay and send the proposal back to the Ordinance Committee, while Vice Mayor Jan Devereux and Councillors Dennis J. Carlone, Sumbul Siddiqui, and Zondervan voted against it.

— Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.
— Katelyn X. Li can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @KatelynLi2.

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