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Tuesday, February 20 Local

Commission eyes centuries-old oak tree

In order to demolish and construct a single-family home at 123 Five Mile River Road, a centuries-old oak tree must be preserved, as per the wishes of Darien's Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I would say that this particular tree is really the anchor of the vista when you drive up Five Mile River Road," said Planning and Zoning Chairman Susan Cameron at Tuesday's meeting.

Cameron, who researched the oak tree in question, said it is between 200 and 300 years old.

"That's not bad; that's a good life," Cameron said.

Mitch and Jody Truwit, the future owners of the property, are proposing to demolish the pink house currently on the premises and construct a single-family home and an in-ground pool.

The property was in the public's eye last summer when Eric Richards, the former applicant who wanted to construct two houses on the property after subdividing it, proposed to demolish the house, divide the property and construct two homes. The application was withdrawn on Nov. 26, 2013, at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Andy Glazer, of Glazer Group, a construction firm based in Rowayton, represents the Truwits. He told the Planning and Zoning Commission during the first session of the public hearing on the application July 8 that Mitch Truwit had convinced the current owner it would be best to sell the property and build one home, according the meeting minutes.

Richards' plan also called for the removal of 8,000 cubic yards of material -- rocks and soil -- from the site, while the Truwits' application to construct one house will remove 500 cubic yards.

Glazer said that while the Truwits are working to preserve the property, the oak tree has become "problematic" for the desired layout of the proposed home. An arborist was hired by the homeowners to examine the tree, Glazer said, and found that while its health was good, its future health is "problematic" given the potential site work.

Glazer added that "aesthetically" the removal of the tree would not be a loss.

"I appreciate your opinion that it's a significant tree," Glazer said to the commission. "The site is going to change, there's no doubt about it. What is there before is not going to be there after. The vista is going to change."

Commissioner Rich DiDonna agreed with Cameron's opinion that the tree should be preserved, adding that he has an oak tree of similar stature in his yard and he has worked to preserve it.

"I think we should save this tree," Cameron said. "I think we should do everything we can."

Glazer said he believed many trees in Darien have a weak root system, which he said was evident by all the downed trees during major storms like Superstorm Sandy, and that the oak on the property could be one of them.

However, he said, if the commission felt strongly about preserving the tree, he would not continue to disagree.

"I'm not going to sacrifice the application for the tree," Glazer said. "My focus is getting this application approved."

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There was no public comment during the hearing.

"I definitely think they need to embrace that tree that's been there and is in good health," Cameron said during the deliberation. She also noted that artists have painted and photographed the tree.

No decision was made regarding the application and was tabled for the Sept. 9 meeting.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews