Miscommunication Led To Removal Of Wrong Sandy Hook Center Tree
A miscommunication last week led to the erroneous removal of the wrong tree in Sandy Hook Center.
A Public Works crew on February 1 was meant to remove a small, dead sapling between the original Sandy Hook Center Christmas tree and the building at 4 Washington Avenue.
Instead, the Christmas tree came down.
The tree at 2 Washington Avenue had served as the focal point of the holiday season within the business district for decades. It was the lone tree lit in late November or early December for years, until a counterpart at 2 Riverside Road was planted in 2013.
The tree that came down last Thursday morning was within The Glen, a 1/20th acre parcel owned by Newtown Forest Association on the southern corner of Washington Avenue and Church Hill Road.
NFA Executive Director Trent McCann said permission had been given to the Town to have a tree removed from that property.
“There was a redbud behind the dress shop” at 4 Washington Avenue, the adjacent property, McCann said. “That’s the tree that was supposed to come down.”
Instead, a fir — which had been under scrutiny for at least a decade and a half — was removed.
“It was not our decision to remove the tree,” he continued. “We had given them permission to be there, to work there on what we thought was a different tree. The tree was removed by the Town as a result of a misunderstanding.”
Public Works Director Anthony Capozziello also called the incident “a misunderstanding.”
The tree that came down, however, had been suffering for years between disease and simply “outgrowing its space,” he added.
The fir, according to Capozziello, had been planted in the mid-1980s. NFA’s arborist put it at 50-70 years old, according to McCann.
“The power lines were an issue, the tree was compromised in the top part of the trunk, and it had holes from woodpeckers and/or bugs,” Capozziello said. “The tree was very thinned out. You could see right through it. It outlived that space and that use.”
Acknowledging that the tree “was still growing — it wasn’t completely dead,” Capozziello reiterated that as the fir continued to grow, “it was getting closer to the power lines and it was at the point where we couldn’t put any lights on it any more.”
Bright orange plastic protectors had recently been installed on the wires closest to the tree.
“That’s why there were those barriers over the lines. Those are high voltage wires,” Capozziello said.
McCann also acknowledged that NFA had been monitoring the tree for 15 years.
“There was interest — not on our side — in having it removed,” he said. “A few months ago we had an arborist go and assess it. His words were, ‘It does not need to be removed in the immediate future.’”
Town Work On Private Property
Newtown Forest Association is the state’s oldest private land trust. It owns or preserves 1,400 acres across 76 parcels in Newtown.
NFA is not associated with the Town of Newtown. The two are two “entirely different agencies,” McCann told The Newtown Bee last summer while speaking to the newspaper about open spaces in town.
It is unclear, therefore, why a Town department has been doing any work on the privately-owned property in Sandy Hook Center.
The relationship between Public Works and The Glen, McCann pointed out, precedes his involvement with NFA. McCann was hired as the association’s first executive director in September 2021.
Tree lightings at The Glen began in 2001, with former Sandy Hook resident and business owner Mary Fellows organizing events with Auntie Claus, karaoke and Christmas caroling, refreshments, and the lighting of the tree at 6 pm. At the time Fellows was the owner of the historic building at 4 Washington Avenue.
Santa replaced his cousin Auntie a few years later, and The Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity (SHOP) officially took over sponsoring the holiday event, but the time line and location have remained essentially unchanged.
SHOP has counted on Public Works to check and string the tree’s lights for years. The arrangement to call on Public Works with issues or requests concerning the tree started well before McCann’s arrival 2½ years ago.
While the tree was being monitored for 15+ years, as recently as five years ago it was uncertain how much longer it could continue to serve as a focus point during the holiday season. In late 2018, Public Works crews learned that the tree had grown so close to the nearby power lines, it was dangerous for its crews to use a bucket truck to work on the tree or string lights on it ahead of that season’s tree lighting event.
Some last-minute maneuvering allowed the event to go on as planned, however.
Both trees have continued to be lit each holiday season, including in 2020 when SHOP hosted a virtual event. Maribeth and Joe Hemingway narrated that year’s tree lighting from the steps of 1 Riverside Road, which overlooks the four-way intersection, while all others were asked to watch from home as the trees were lit during the COVID holiday season.
The Glen’s tree was also an early focal point in the hours, days and weeks following 12/14. People flocking into Sandy Hook hoping to pay their respects and leave mementoes behind often left them on or under that tree. The unofficial memorial spread onto adjacent sidewalks, lampposts and guardrails, but the tree was recognized by many as a central location.
By Monday, February 5, both men agreed about the next step for The Glen.
“We’re going to work with the forest association and we’re going to put up a nice new tree,” Capozziello said.
McCann made a similar comment, adding “the Town will cover the expense” for the tree and its installation.
Public Works has been given permission to go back into The Glen, remove the stump, and get the site prepped, according to McCann. He did not yet know what kind of tree would be going into The Glen, nor when the installation would take place.
“Conversations about that haven’t happened yet,” he said. “What we do know, and recognize, is that that tree held a special place in the community of Sandy Hook and in people’s hearts. Whatever goes in its place we know will fill a similar role.”
Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.