The Sandy Hook Christmas tree will remain standing, following an eight-person unanimous vote by the executive board of The Newtown Forest Association (NFA) Thursday night.
The board of the NFA, which owns the property where the tree grows, met May 9, and “reaffirmed a tentative decision” made in prior weeks to keep the tree up for an undetermined amount of time, said NFA President Robert Eckenrode.
The evergreen decorated annually for the holidays is outgrowing its spot on The Glen — a small NFA property at the intersection of Church Hill Road, Glen Road, and Washington Avenue. The tree became the center of controversy roughly a year ago as the NFA members announced plans to improve the site and remove the tree, which is a focal point for Sandy Hook Center during the holiday season, and now as the scene of many of the impromptu street memorials that appeared after 12/14.
“Removing the tree this year so soon after last December became a hard reality,” Mr Eckenrode said. A new tree, however, would have been planted across the street to replace the NFA tree as a holiday centerpiece.
Despite plans to redo The Glen, which dovetail with an ongoing town streetscape project bringing new curbing and sidewalks through Sandy Hook Center, the tree will remain.
In an email to First Selectman Pat Llodra, Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity (SHOP) President Michael Burton, Director of Planning and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker, and others following Thursday’s vote, Mr Eckenrode wrote, “We do recognize the Sandy Hook Streetscape Committee had many valid points for completing the plans as they were originally conceived. I can assure you that all sides of the issue were openly discussed and honestly reviewed … our board has unanimously decided that now is not the time to remove our tree as part of the streetscape restoration project. We will continue to work with you on any and all other updates to our property.”
SHOP President Michael Burton said, “I personally am disappointed in the decision.” He feels the streetscape will be “unfinished in that area.” The Glen has become rundown over the years, he said, and needed a facelift, “which could have been done, but now the intersection of Sandy Hook will be only three quarters finished.”
He considered what would become of traditional December festivities without the tree. “The plan was to have a new Christmas tree that could become our new tree for years to come; we thought removing the Glen tree and planting another tree on town land could be celebrated as Sandy Hook’s tree,” he said. The new tree is slated for planting on the corner of Washington Avenue and Riverside Road. He described the location as a “beautiful spot with great elevation, and the renovated NFA property would have been a great area for viewing the new tree lighting.”
He is also aware of how 12/14’s aftermath and the memorial that grew at the Glen “reflect that tree.” He said, “I don’t think those events should define who we are. It could become a gridlock again [in December] as a makeshift memorial.”
Has the NFA board made a good decision? Mr Eckenrode said, “Ultimately, yes.” He acknowledged arguments on both sides, and is glad “to bring this to a close.” He also anticipates “working with” the streetscape organizers to “finish a plan to benefit the entire community.”
He said, “There is a valid point with the streetscape to take it down. I don’t think this will affect their project too much with our tree in place. We do not want to hold that up.”
The NFA board members wrote a letter to officials in anticipation of their final decision. Following the letter were meetings this week. Mr Eckenrode said, “We tentatively had made a decision, but engaged streetscape people and officials once again.” They discussed the outcome of keeping the tree. Based on those discussions, “We made the most informed decision possible.”
How long will the tree remain in place? “I am not sure,” said Mr Eckenrode. The tree’s continued health will determine when it should come down, he said.
Arborists looked at the tree a couple of weeks ago, and the tree is healthy. “There is no real reason [to cut it down now] right now other than it’s in the way of progress,” Mr Eckenrode said.
He hopes the community will decorate it again this year like a Christmas tree, he said.
After sending a letter in past weeks to officials discussing the NFA’s plans, Mr Eckenrode met again with officials this week before the executive board made its decisions. “I made sure we were all informed,” before voting Thursday evening, he said.
“I assured officials that the board had to make a decision as a unit. Eight members voted by secret ballot unanimously to keep the tree,” he said.
The pending decision in past days had prompted residents and officials to speak out.
In a recent letter to the editor printed in The Bee, Kathleen Barton had said, “Sometimes a tree is more than a tree.” The Sandy Hook tree is a “powerful symbol of our community ... a gathering place in times of joy … and great sorrow,” she wrote.