Front and rear yards are part of the important and historic fabric of the Back Bay and, as such, they are subject to “The Guidelines for the Back Bay Residential District,” adopted in 1990 by the Back Bay Architectural Commission, which falls under the auspices of the City of Boston Environment Department.
Regarding front gardens, the Guidelines state that “Landscaping plans should be reviewed by the commission. … The planting of flowering trees in front yards is encouraged.” Trees that reach only 15 to 20 feet at maturity are preferred. The Guidelines also state that “replacement of landscaping in rear yards and parking areas is encouraged.” When a building or rear yard is being substantially renovated, every effort should be made to install a new tree in accordance with the guidelines.
No tree on private property in the Back Bay Historic District may be removed without BBAC approval. Unapproved removal of a tree will be brought to the Violations Committee for review and mitigation. Approaches such as trimming and root reduction must be evaluated as an alternative to removal. Removal of a tree should be regarded as a last resort.
Back Bay Guidelines for Tree Removal and Replacement
For applications to the BBAC for tree removal, the burden of proof will be on the applicant to prove sufficient reason for removal. Verification of claims that support removal will be required. A certified arborist must attest to the health of the tree and the feasibility of remedying identified problems without tree removal. If it disagrees with the analysis, the Garden Club of the Back Bay may submit a second opinion from its own arborist for consideration by the Commission. In cases where structural damage is claimed, a stamped letter from licensed structural engineer will be required.
Sufficient reasons to consider the removal of a tree:
- The tree is dead or dying or damaged beyond repair
- The tree has a disease (like Dutch elm disease), which can spread to kill other trees
- The tree is a hazard and could result in injury to a person or damage to property
- The tree is in such a place that it is compromising the integrity of a built structure, like a wall or a foundation; or has damaged sewers and the issue cannot be rectified in any way other than removal
Reasons NOT sufficient to remove trees:
- The tree is disrupting the ground plane
- The tree is interfering with parking
- The tree has a disease which can be treated and is not endangering other trees
- The tree is a volunteer (self-seeded), or has been poorly maintained in the past
Other factors that may be considered in evaluating removal or replacement
- Overall “treescape”: In some cases, overcrowding has resulted in poor growth habits, damage, or disfigurement to other existing trees. Thinning in such instances may promote greater health and longer survival of the remaining trees.
- Age and size: It is now estimated that the life of an urban tree could be as short at 15 years due to environmental stress and other conditions. This makes the mature, large trees virtually irreplaceable and their removal is strongly discouraged by the Garden Club.
- Species: The BBAC recommends that ornamental (flowering) trees of mid to small scale are appropriate for front yard plantings. Shade trees and evergreens of large size may be considered inappropriate species in front yards. Larger scale trees, on the other hand, can be desirable in alley and rear yard locations. The Garden Club is available to consult with property owners on potential species selection for both front and rear yards.
- Location: If the BBAC grants permission for the removal of a tree, a replacement tree may be required. This tree should be placed as close to the existing location as practical.
The Garden Club of the Back Bay is committed to working with the BBAC to enforce these policies and to encourage the maintenance and expansion of the urban tree canopy by:
- advocating for retaining existing trees wherever possible and, if not successful, advocating for their replacement
- advocating for the planting of new trees.