Residents Critique West Chatham Landscaping Plan

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: West Chatham , Traffic

Route 28 in West Chatham.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM Few local issues in recent memory have been more divisive than the debate over the West Chatham roadway redesign. But there was plenty of common ground in last week's meeting on how the corridor should be landscaped.

The state's plan to install trees, shrubs and grasses along the renovated stretch Route 28 between George Ryder Road and Barn Hill Road is good, but more landscaping would further enhance the roadway's appearance, those at the meeting said.

The session was a joint meeting of the planning board and the historic business district commission, and is one of three such sessions to be held. The second was to be held on Sept. 27, after The Chronicle's press time, to discuss sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting and other “hardscaping.” In the final meeting on Oct. 19, the two bodies will prepare their joint report to the board of selectmen. They are also collecting written public comments through Friday, Sept. 30.

The landscaping plan, included as several pages in the 100 percent design documents for the roadway project, calls for the installation of 10 Japanese tree lilacs and hedge maples on the south side of Main Street between Seaquanset Road and Barn Hill Road, with no trees on the north side. Four scarlet oaks would be planted on the west side of Barn Hill Road by the Shop Ahoy Plaza, but the portion of the parking lot that faces Main Street would not be screened by landscaping.

The islands approaching the new roundabouts at either end of the corridor would be landscaped with ornamental grasses, ground covers, flowers and shrubs, with four- to five-foot-tall pitch pines to be planted in the center of the roundabouts themselves.

Resident Craig Vokey said he would prefer smaller shrubs inside the traffic circles, so that motorists can easily see across. If trees are necessary there, pitch pines are not the best choice, he said. “I don't think they're a particularly attractive tree,” Vokey said.

John Bendas said he is excited about the prospect of greening up the corridor, “but I would like to see maybe extensions both east and west” and on both sides of Main Street. While doing so would increase the price tag, “let's see what the costs are,” he said.

Friends of Trees board member George Myers agreed on the need for more trees in the plan, including some plantings to better screen the Shop Ahoy lot and the utility poles in the area. Doing so would create a “safer, more pleasant walking and biking environment” that would help West Chatham look more like a village center.

Rick Leavitt argued that additional trees on the north side would provide shade for the new multi-use path for cyclists and walkers, and would reduce the speed of cars passing through the area “by visually narrowing the road.”

The landscape plan presented by MassHighway would be funded by the state, and any additional landscaping would likely require a different funding source. Resident Elaine Gibbs said it's nice to envision elaborate landscape plans, but the money needs to be identified for those plans.

“When you get to the point where you're making recommendations to the board of selectmen, I would hope you would have some indication whether or not it's going to have to go to town meeting for taxpayers to approve,” she said. Gibbs also warned against planting trees that drop leaves or flowers that could make the sidewalk unsafe, and said she has concerns about who would maintain the new vegetation. “Watering is going to be an issue,” she said.

Bill Marsh of Eastward Homes, whose business will be developing property in the corridor shortly, agreed on the need for more landscaping. He said trees on the south side should be planted with adequate space between them “so you can see through to the businesses.”

Resident Sean Summers said he prefers the use of deciduous trees that have colorful leaves in the fall, as part of an effort to extend the town's shoulder season for visitors. If the town needs to spend additional money to install more landscaping than the state is providing, it would be a worthwhile expense, he said.

“It would be shortsighted not to landscape it as well as we can,” Summers said. “And if that means a few bucks locally, I think it's well worth it.” He agreed that, before any town money is spent, there should be an acceptable plan in place for the maintenance and irrigation of the new landscaping.