CHATHAM – About a year ago, a large branch broke off the Bradford pear tree that shades the historic Mayo House at 540 Main St. Concerned that that could happen again and worried that the tree's oversized canopy may pose a safety hazard, the Chatham Conservation Foundation, which owns the property, has proposed removing the tree.
“That was kind of like the first warning sign,” Foundation Executive Director Matt Cannon said about the branch that fell onto the sidewalk last year. A number of the tree's large branches extend over the sidewalk, as well as over the circa 1820 house, which has recently had its roof and siding replaced. The Foundation wants to avoid another large branch falling onto the house, which was restored with community preservation funds, or onto the sidewalk, possibly endangering pedestrians.
“The day I was there, there were three people sitting underneath the tree,” said David Chalker Jr., an arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts. In an assessment of the tree for the Foundation, he said it posed an “unreasonable amount of risk for future failure” due to its oversized canopy, weak branch unions and shallow root system.
The town's tree warden, Park and Recreation Director Dan Tobin, will hold a public hearing on the request to remove the tree next Thursday, Oct. 19 at 2 p.m. at the community center.
The tree appears to be about 40 to 50 years old, Chalker said. Foundation President Eunice Burley said the tree was probably planted in the 1970s when the Mayo House was placed on a new foundation at its current site following construction of the adjacent Cape Cod Five bank.
“That was a pretty common tree during that time frame,” Chalker said, and was often used in commercial landscaping. It's proven not to be a good “street tree,” Tobin said, because of the tendency for its branches to break once they reach a certain size. Chalker said the tree is near the limit of the species' lifespan; because of the shallow roots and heavy canopy, Bradford pears often succumbs to damage from heavy wind and snow.
A number of large roots are also exposed above the ground in front of the house, creating a tripping hazard, Chalker said.
“It's kind of tough,” Cannon said, surveying the tree last Thursday morning. “It looks nice. But it's a safety issue.”
“The tree is much too heavy,” added Burley, a landscape architect. “There's too much sail. It's out of scale.”
Bradford pear is not a native tree, and although specific plans have not been finalized, it's likely that it will be replaced by a more suitable native tree.
“There's a number of trees that could be utilized there that are pest and disease resistant and would add some color,” Chalker said. There are several native maples along the eastern property line, and the Foundation recently planted some native shrubbery as well. That dovetails with the Foundation's mission of preserving the local environment.
“It's nice to show people what natives can look like,” he said.
Along with mitigating a potential safety hazard, removing the Bradford pear will have several other benefits, said Cannon and Burley. It will make the Mayo House more visible and also expose it to more sunlight and air circulation, hopefully increasing the longevity of the new roof and shingles.
Along with the exterior restoration of the house originally built by blacksmith Josiah Mayo, the Foundation has invested in some interior upgrades, including a new furnace and air conditioning. A room at the back of the house has been converted to an office for Cannon, who was hired as the organization's first full-time director this summer. In previous years the house has been open during the summer for tours; the Foundation hopes to continue that for at least the front portion of the building.
Although the property is within the historic business district, the historic business district commission has no authority over landscaping. Nonetheless, the commission granted an exemption for the removal of the tree, which member Sam Streibert said has long hidden the historic three-quarter Cape.
“A tiny house like that with a giant tree in front of it is a little out of proportion,” he said.
Founded in 1962, the Chatham Conservation Foundation is the oldest land trust on Cape Cod. It currently owns or holds conservation restrictions on more than 785 acres of upland, beach, pond area and marsh. Its most recent acquisition was a small parcel on Countryside Drive.