Sometimes we are faced with having to make decisions that we don't want to make. The same is true for concessions. Sometimes you have to give a little but you don't have to always give it all. We've all heard the phrase, "choose your battles". That isn't always easy, especially if the odds of winning are against you or the reality of eminent domain is lurking in the shadows.
The Old Apple Tree
Eminent Domain was nothing new but neither was the old apple tree. It had survived drought conditions, blizzards, and an ice storm. It was not going to fall victim to a chain saw.
Years ago the availability of State funding made the development of a wider road in front of our home a possibility. The majority of the people that live in our county were ecstatic because it is a commonly used road that connects our small community to the nearest city 45 miles away. Without a doubt, the road needed to be redone. I was behind the project 100% and looking forward to what was promised; increased safety and smooth asphalt! I was even a bit disappointed when I learned that the entire project was expected to take a couple of years and our end was scheduled for the latter part.
My support diminished a little once the project began. As expected, but not to the degree there was, chaos unfolded. Dirt, mud, gravel flying off the back of trucks, construction equipment haphazardly parked, and long waits on hot days to be allowed through to get home quickly became the norm. It did not appear that the prospect of promised jobs had become a reality as a private company from another area (with their own employees) had been subcontracted to complete the brunt of the project. And then there was the rumor mill…it was said that one or two residents on that end of the road were holding out for more money and stalling the project. One was a farmer I knew and I did not buy the notion that he was being difficult without reason. In actuality, money was not the issue. The actual issues were the replacement of fencing surrounding his acres and acres of his property and the safety of his livestock. Eventually, a resolve came to the situation. That portion of the road was completed and the following spring there was a knock on our door.
We knew the man that came to our door as the spokesman. He was someone we liked and without hesitation we sat down to listen to what he had to say. We were updated on the project and after some general niceties we were advised that the plans included a change in the center line in the road, requiring a bit of the land in front of our house, some of our trees would need to be “harvested” , and our driveway would be repositioned. He unrolled the blueprint and after close inspection it revealed a significant amount of land in front of our house would be taken, our old, beautiful trees would be destroyed (replaced with saplings) and our driveway would be completely rerouted , causing greater difficulty to maintain and increased danger in exiting. We were reminded we would be “compensated”. We expressed we were not willing to sign on any dotted line at that point.
Weeks later he returned. We proposed that there was more land on the other side of the road and there was not a home there that would be impacted. In addition, by expanding on that side, a dangerous corner could be eliminated. We were told that moving the road in that direction was not a possibility and would not be considered. We discussed our concerns with the projected change in our driveway as well and our desire to keep as many trees and our abundant berry bushes intact.
The next visit, he brought another engineer along with him. We reviewed what we were told were the final revisions, based on our input at prior meetings. An effort had been made to accommodate our wishes and though this “taking” of our land wasn’t what we wanted, we had to concede because we acknowledged the need for improved safety and expansion on the road.
Everything was alright until we viewed the blueprint for our driveway. It had been moved to the area of our choice but the glorious apple tree in the middle of our lawn was gone. We inquired about this and were told that it would have to be cut down for a variety of reasons. We protested and the term, eminent domain, was blatantly stated for the first time. We knew it was looming over our heads all along but to have someone actually “remind” me was a trigger. It was at that point I snapped back, “Yes, eminent domain, I am well aware of it. But I am also well aware of various mechanisms afforded in the legal system that are at my avail.” I was told I couldn’t win. I responded that it wasn’t a matter of winning as much as it was a matter of principal. We had conceded a great deal for the “greater good and public use” but we were not giving up our old apple tree for no purpose other than convenience. I stated I could petition the court for a SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) review, I could delay their entire project with motions and proceedings and in the end, doing battle with us over an Apple Tree could be far more costly than spending some additional manpower hours working around it.
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We were later notified that our old apple tree would not be cut down and safety fencing would be placed around it during the construction process to designate it as a restricted safe zone. I was relieved. In actuality, I didn’t want to delay this project. I saw the need for it but I was not willing to give up more than what I needed to. I did not want to have to go to court or engage in a lengthy fight but I would have if the pursuit of destroying my property without a legitimate purpose had continued.
It’s an apple tree to the average person but to me it symbolizes so much more. It grew in the location where years ago, long before we purchased the property, my husbands’ grandmother would dump her apple peelings and cores after making a pie.
It is what caught my eye when we viewed the property as prospective buyers 22 years ago. While my husband recanted the beauty of the home and property when he was a child, I admired the grander of the apple tree and pondered how many apples were hanging from the branches at the time.
My children climbed it, gathered apples that had fallen under it, and picked a bouquet or two of apple blossoms off the lower branches when they were little. It was also an occasional great hiding spot during a game of hide and seek, a much desired obstacle during a game of tag and a great backdrop for photographs of kids before dances or special events over the years.
Time has passed and now my grandson feels it is his duty to check the apples each weekend to see if they “taste ready”. In the fall, before the snow starts to whirl outside our windows, we fill buckets upon buckets with apples. During the winter deer have been known to come and eat whatever apples fell late or were left under it.
I smile when I think of how we all recognize an attachment to this tree. When the road project began, there was some confusion regarding the agreement pertaining to it. In reality, this resulted in my son actually being the true “savior” and the final household member to exert his property rights! I was working in an upstairs room, he was suppose to be watching his favorite cartoon, and suddenly I heard all outside activity come to a distinct, abrupt halt. I looked out my window and there he was. My CHILD was standing between the tree and the construction crew. He was wearing his father’s DOT bright orange vest and a hardhat. He told the man with the chainsaw to pack it up and the other full grown men just stood there in awe, staring at a forty pound self proclaimed foreman! When I realized what was happening I ran down the stairs and out the door, only to find them all getting in their pick-up trucks and pulling away with the exception of a few that had gathered in a circle on the road, awaiting the arrival of a supervisor. My son looked at me with a smile and said he had protected the tree and told them to leave his property. Confident he had accomplished his task for the day, he proceeded back inside to finish watching his cartoons. My husband was home in time to speak to the actual foreman and project supervisors when they returned to erect the safety fencing, orange at that, around the tree.
The tree has a history. The tree is in many ways part of our history. We have the new road. Our driveway was changed, and our old apple tree is still as glorious as ever!