Two neighborhoods abutting a contentious property off of Kimball Road joined forces to stop the tree clearing planned for the 60-acre site by working with the property owner to address their concerns.
Michael Cooper, a resident of the Springwood neighborhood and an activist on this issue, said that the tree clearing at the site began in early April without notice to abutters or the town. He first learned of the activity when he heard the sound of the machinery and drove by the property. He reached out to Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Service Forestry Program Director Jennifer Fish and DCR Service Forester Mike Downey about the situation and spoke at a Conservation Commission meeting last month.
In an interview with the Hopkinton Independent on Tuesday, Cooper confirmed that property owner Michael Umina, a Hopkinton resident and 2016 candidate for the Select Board, reached out to him after reading a May 2 article in the Independent highlighting concerns surrounding the tree clearing.
“It’s one of those things where the owner of the property came to the table,” explained Cooper. “Some neighbors tried to sit down with [him] to see what his goals are for the land and let him know our goals for conservation of at least some of the trees. After he saw the article in the Independent, he spoke with a few of us and agreed to sell part of the land, if the town would agree with it.”
Cooper added that some of the neighbors may be willing to purchase sections of the land abutting their properties in order to preserve it and create a buffer to their property. Under the DCR permit, the owner has the right to clear the land up to the property line.
“We haven’t worked out the details yet,” Cooper said. “The site consists of several parcels, and we are still early in the discussions. We also need to see if the town, the Hopkinton Area Land Trust, the Open Space Preservation Committee, or another town committee would want to buy it. Ultimately it’s the property owner’s decision to sell the land.”
This issue was to be discussed Thursday night at the Open Space Preservation Committee’s hybrid meeting. In a previous meeting, OSPC chair and Conservation Commission member Ed Harrow said the OSPC was interested in learning about purchasing parcels to conserve them from development.
Logger foreman disobeys directive
“Our main condition is that the cutting has to stop,” Cooper said, confirming that the cutting activity ceased by Monday after he and a few neighbors from the Springwood and Hunters Ridge neighborhoods met on the property with Umina and Paul Davis, the logger foreman, last Friday. Piles of logs were cleared away on Monday, with most of them removed by Tuesday.
“The land owner went down to the site with us and told the logger to stop,” Cooper said. “The loggers went above and beyond what the landowner wanted and expected.”
Ten minutes after they left, Cooper said he heard the cutting activity resume.
“The logger wouldn’t stop,” he said. “We contacted the owner, and he went back. That’s when the craziness went down and the cops came. Paul Davis left the site and was pretty nasty to us. He flat-out lied to the neighbors and the property owner.”
Cooper stressed that Umina has been understanding about the residents’ concerns and “unfortunately has taken a bad rap,” while the logger was not initially responsive to their requests.
Abutter Sam Sader, who lives on Kimball Road, was one of the visitors to the site. He called the cessation of cutting “a temporary resolution.”
“I have been in touch with the owner for a while,” he said. “I expressed to him that we wanted to retain the natural character of the neighborhood as much as possible. In the course of our conversations, I made him aware that everyone was upset about the tree cutting. … I met the owner at the Kimball Road cul-de-sac [last Thursday] at 8:30 a.m. and entered the property with him at the service entrance. One thing worth noting is that [Umina] repeatedly said that he didn’t want people to be upset. We drove through trails and mud and had to continue on foot because his truck got stuck.”
He described Davis as “very unhappy and unpleasant.”
“The foreman said he would stop the cutting,” Sader said. “But by the time we left the property, it resumed. The owner called the foreman on the phone and threatened to call the police. The police did come.”
Sader confirmed that the logs already processed were removed on Monday.
“A lot of the site has been destroyed,” he said, noting that he had drone photos of the property. “The crazy part is that the permit allowed them to cut so close to the wetlands. Our next step is to work with the town to see if we conserve some of the land. They seem to be receptive.”
Sader added that he was told by Umina that he “is prepared to sell at least one of the parcels that abuts Smith Road, Kimball Road and a little bit of Hunters Ridge.”
Added Sader: “I personally witnessed what happened, and I can vouch for the owner’s character.”
One positive from this situation to “stop the destruction,” Sader said, is that neighbors from Hunters Ridge, which abuts the property on the opposite side from Springwood, have joined in the effort, as well as other residents. Another was that Downey agreed verbally with Umina to institute a buffer zone around part of the property.
Sader described when he first visited the site after he heard the cutting begin and asked Davis about the situation.
“I told him it was really loud,” Sader said. “[Davis] said, ‘And it’s about to get louder over the next two months. Now I need you to get off of my construction site.’ ”
Hunters Ridge residents join effort
Devin Callinan, a resident of the Hunters Ridge neighborhood, said he joined the conservation effort “very, very recently” after he was contacted by Cooper.
Said Callinan: “The reality was sinking in that it was very possible that a solar installation or housing could be going in there. I read an article and said, ‘Holy smokes, this is happening.’ ”
He described “frantic texting” among him and some neighbors who wanted to mobilize against the cutting. He questioned why abutters were not notified and why a buffer zone was not required in the beginning.
“Not being notified was really baffling,” Callinan said. While he understood why Hunters Ridge residents might not have received notice, he believed abutters on the Springwood should have been made aware of the activity.
He described the site, which he visited with the group last Friday, as “a massive gaping area” that “they made quick work of decimating.”
“The logger disobeyed the owner’s request,” Callinan said. “I don’t blame the owner. It just spiraled out of control. What was shocking to me was that [Davis] said he needed to cut a path out of the far end of the parcel. The owner told him to use the same way he came in.”
He called the machinery used to cut the trees “impressive” and “gargantuan pieces of machinery with eight arms.”
Said Callinan: “They can cut a 200-foot tree down in three seconds.”
Coming together with other abutters was one positive that came from this experience, he said.
“I really have high hopes for the OSPC meeting,” he added. “It’s really been a team effort with the neighbors coming together. We want to preserve the serenity of the forest, because that’s why we moved here.”
Town unable to stop cutting
On April 25, the town issued a statement noting that the tree clearing activity was legal under a permit issued by the DCR. The land is zoned as being in an agricultural district. The state permit superseded town bylaws that seek to protect woodland areas.
At the Conservation Commission meeting, Conservation Administrator Kim Ciaramicoli said she would issue a letter to DCR expressing the town’s frustration about the process. A letter obtained by the Independent dated April 28 was sent from the town’s Land Use Department to Fish. The letter outlined three town land use bylaws concerning the requirement of 50-foot buffer zones at wetlands, stormwater management and erosion controls, and a bylaw regulating solar voltaic installations. The letter was cosigned by Ciaramicoli, Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus and Principal Planner John Gelcich.
“The town sent something to the state, but it didn’t really have much teeth to it,” Cooper said.
In June 2021, the site was proposed during a Planning Board meeting as a potential location for two subdivisions. But a project attorney said “the end goal is solar,” admitting that the subdivision plans were proposed to get around the newly approved solar bylaw regulating solar voltaic installations.
In response to questions from the Independent, a DCR spokesperson said in a statement that DCR “issued a forestry permit to the landowner of this property in December 2020, which was extended in November 2022, amended in April 2023 and will expire in December 2023.”
“The landowner is required to notify abutters within 200 feet of the cutting area, not separated by a publicly maintained way, 10 days before harvesting begins,” the statement continued. “DCR is not involved in a separate town process.
“When DCR is made aware of a potential land use change, DCR investigates by speaking to relevant parties to determine whether the permit should be nullified,” according to the spokesperson’s statement. “Preliminary subdivision plans or an exploration of options for land use do not qualify as a land use change. The timber harvesting that is currently underway is a shelterwood harvest with strategic spacing of overstory trees to provide a seed source for a new forest and light conditions favorable to specific tree species that are present, such as oak and eastern white pine species. DCR will continue to work with the town as well as elected officials on this and similar projects.”
“The solar farm proposal is still a bit up in the air right now,” Cooper said. “Now that the emergency is over, we all want to come to the table. We want to make sure that no neighborhood ever has to deal with this again and that the abutters can be happy and the landowner can be happy. What it comes down to is that we love our neighborhood. What is the purpose of having green energy if you remove all the trees?”
On Wednesday, Umina told the Independent he is “working with some of the people down the road to come to an agreement.”
Said Umina: “I want to make everyone happy.”
Umina is is also selling his property behind Benson and along the back of Gibbon. No homeowner notices have been received but plans may be with the town and approved ? We will see the same clearing for several homes to be built with quite a bit of construction. More trees gone.
Curious- where is the land behind benson/ back of gibbon? Is it near the culdesac?
These folks bought houses on a specific piece of land, they did not buy the surrounding area. If they wish to dictate what lawfully happens on adjoining land they meed to own it.
100 % correct! Why abutters feel they have the right to control other properties is odd. Especially after their lots were cleared for construction likely in the same manner. Apparently everything else is supposed to stop after they are in their own property. Were trees cleared to construct the neighbors homes?
If the logging contractor has a contract like I use. He maintains all timber wrights
They need to negotiate with the logging concentrator for his or her inconvenience land owner doesn’t own the timber anymore
Landowners sign contracts with Timber Harvesting companies, selling their wood from their property. It’s a contract. Of course the logger was not going to just stop. He owns that wood.