Text and photos by Steev Riccardo
WEBSTER – Traveling east on Route 16 from Webster to Douglas, it’s hard not to notice that right before the town line it looks like a tornado came through the area and literally cut down every tree on the south side of the road.
It’s a scene that has a lot people talking, but it’s somewhat of a mystery what the owner, Douglas developer Louis Tusino, has planned for the six-acre area of land.
This particular land is zoned residential/agricultural, which means that it is designated for single-family housing, but when we talked to Tusino he said he had much bigger plans for the area, none of which included building homes, making the tree cutting endeavor an even bigger mystery.
According to public records, Guaranteed Builders Inc. (owned by Tusino) purchased the land at 0 Douglas Road for $100,000 on March 10, 2000, and it has not been touched since.
When we reached out to Tusino to find out what his plans were he said, “We are developing the land. We have a range of ideas from storage spaces to a hotel.” He also said that there is no timetable set for any construction on the land and the reason he cut down all the trees is because “it’s all ledge and it all has to be cleaned up and all the rocks pulled out of there. You can’t do that between all the trees.”
The next obvious question would be why now? “The economy is coming back, everything is moving in a good direction and I see big things happening all over,” said Tusino. “We have our finger on the pulse and that’s how we operate.
“When you get change like this we are looking for big things to happen in the coming year,” said Tusino, who said he plans to do the same on the Uxbridge/Douglas line where he hopes to build a casino, but has yet to talk to the Town of Uxbridge about this. “It would be interesting if the town would allow it.”
When questioned further about cutting all the trees down from a wildlife perspective, the 72-year-old developer said, “Wildlife? Do you realize that we have over 18,000 acres of state forest? Do you know the state is putting everyone out of business because they are buying all this land? I wouldn’t sell to them. The people of Webster should have something nice there, make something happen.
“We didn’t cut any trees down without going to the town first. I have a good relationship with Webster; we went to everyone and we got a clean bill of health.”
Webster Town Administrator John McAuliffe had a completely different take on the situation. “The first involvement I had with this was a phone call that someone was doing a lot of clear cutting and I had the building inspector go up and take a look and by the time he got there it was pretty much wiped out. It was a very aggressive clear-cut of five or more acres. The building inspector looked at it and he had no permits on file and he was not aware of any other permits being pulled.”
“When you see it in person it really is eye opening; it’s a substantial clearing of the land,” said McAuliffe. “It would be very unusual to have such ambitious work being done on raw land without a notice of intent being filed with the Conservation Commission, and none was filed.”
When told that Tusino said that the town was very “supportive” of the move, McAuliffe said: “I am not really sure who is supportive. It seems like we may have had one explanation to the town board.
“I would be the first one to protect the property owner’s rights but I don’t feel the process was followed in this case and if he has intentions of doing something commercial, then it would have to be rezoned,” said McAuliffe. “An ambitious undertaking like that 99% of the time triggers some sort of permit and procedure, so it is most unusual.”
McAuliffe said that he is still working with the Conservation Commission to see what the protocol should be. “I have been involved with many conservation hearings over the years and they usually do very thorough work if someone is going to work in a buffer zone or if they are going to touch any of the wetlands. There is a very regulated process with that and so far I can’t see that the landlord followed any of those procedures.”
“It looks like napalm hit it; it’s really kind of shocking at first,” said Bennett Smith III, who is a volunteer member of the conservation board.
“I think we were all a little concerned at first and we called the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and they told me that they were fine. We had to make sure that nothing was violated, that the wetlands protection act was covered.”
Smith was concerned about whether they left enough trees on the side of the road and thought that there may be a law that protects that, which he is looking into. “If they did start some digging right now we would go after them if they hadn’t filed certain paper work, because of sedimentation and erosion control. Then there would be a problem. There are so many variables - that’s why we call the DEP to help us.”
Mike Finamore, who neighbors the land and owns and operates the Webster Family Campground, was away on vacation in February when the land was cleared out and said he was “shocked” when he returned. He immediately called Tusino to ask him what was going on and was told that he didn’t know yet what he was going to do with the land.
“He attempted last year to have the land rezoned for commercial and it was shot down at the town meeting,” Finamore said. “ No one knows why he took the trees down; there is all kinds of speculation. From what I understand he is looking to put a couple of garages there and waiting to see if there are any complaints but now that the DEP got involved in it, I don’t think he is going to do anything. He is just going to let it sit there, which makes it an eyesore.”
Finamore said his only concern was whether it would affect his ground water, his re-charge area and his campground. “Other than that, anybody who owns land has the rights to build within the guidelines and codes of the Town of Webster and the State of Massachusetts.”
There seems to be a number of unanswered questions still about the clear-cutting and the developer’s intentions for the project. Time will tell if this was a good move or a bad move and determine if there was any impact on wildlife, water flow, or other environmental aspect.