Case of the axed arbor: Downtown tree toll rooted in mystery

This spot on the corner of Post Road and Sanford Street has been home to three trees in four years. A new tree will not be planted to replace it.
This spot on the corner of Post Road and Sanford Street has been home to three trees in four years. A new tree will not be planted to replace it.Contributed Photo/Joe DiMasi

A bright orange traffic cone set in the center of a grate on the Post Road, near Sanford Street has prompted speculation by residents and business owners over what will go in the spot that's been home to three trees in the last four years.

To some, it's just a tree. But to others, the space means much more. And for the past three years, the space has garnered more attention than one would expect.

In 2006, the Fairfield Citizen reported that a tree just outside Snappy Gator, 1438 Post Road, was mysteriously chopped down. Tree Warden Ken Placko said he's not sure what happened to the tree at that time. He told a reporter in 2006: "I don't have the sawdust on their shoes to go by. I don't have the chainsaw with the sap from the tree."

Neighboring business owners offered various scenarios about the axing, but an investigation turned up no results. The incident remained a mystery.

Then the town planted another tree -- a dogwood -- which died and was removed, according to Placko. And then there was a third tree, which no one seems to be able to account for. According to Placko, the matter was turned over to the state, but again yielded no results.

Now a vacant plot, the town has been deciding what to do with the space -- should yet another tree be planted or just leave the space as is? The answer to that question proved more complicated than town officials originally thought.

The trees were first planted along the Post Road downtown as part of the town's beautification efforts which began in the mid-1980s under First Selectman Jacky Durrell. It's the same project that brought brick walkways and benches to the area.

With trees lining each side of the road, it's noticeable when one goes missing. But preserving the aesthetics is not cheap -- planting a tree can cost from $300 to $500, Placko said.

Andrew Servetas, owner of Las Vetas Lounge at 27 Unquowa Road, used to operate his business near the corner where the tree was chopped down. When the tree went missing in 2006 he lamented the loss, pointing out that it disfigured downtown.

"It's like someone who opens up their mouth without a tooth," he said.

Yet trees lining the Post Road also cause problems -- mainly because they grow. According to Placko, roots spread underground, and the branches get tangled up in wires or rub up against buildings.

Then there is the problem business owners face: blocking their storefront windows.

However, there's more going on at that corner than just a tree and some store windows. It's a heavily trafficked pedestrian walkway in two directions -- across the Post Road toward Borders Books, and across Sanford Street. With a tree located so close to the intersection, pedestrians have complained to town officials that visibility is compromised, and crossing the street is dangerous.

The spot for the tree is also located in the exact spot of a bus stop, which can pose problems for riders disembarking from a bus.

"It is a very active corner and a place where you want to have pedestrian sight lines," First Selectman Kenneth Flatto explained.

For these reasons, the town has decided not to replace the tree near the corner of the Post Road and Sanford Street.

"Property owners felt it was not in their interest [to replace the tree again]," Flatto said. "We're not looking to make things any more difficult for local businesses."

Going forward, options for the space include installing a planting urn, as area business owners have proposed, according to Flatto.