Renovate, Rebuild, or Replace?

When I bought a house in Trumansburg nine years ago, one of the first things I did was cut down a tree.

It was a “street tree,” an old maple with three thick leaders. A “leader” is a thick branch. When the tree grew and split into three equally-sized parts, the entire structure of the tree was weakened.

There are a number of these trees in the village. The one in front of my house was held together by chains, to keep the leaders from spreading, and concrete had been poured in the crotch of the tree in an effort to keep water from pooling and rotting the tree.

These well-intentioned treatments didn’t actually help the tree, though. Old trees are heavy – the chains would have broken eventually, and the concrete patch (a decades-old idea that no arborist would recommend in this case) actually helped to accelerate the rot in the crotch by preventing moisture from escaping. The tree grew weaker. It was immediately obvious that once the chains went, the three leaders would fall on three things: my house, my driveway, and the power lines.

Since it was my tree, because I’d bought it along with the house, I cut it down. I didn’t ask my neighbors for permission, I didn’t fill out a form at the Clerk’s office, and I didn’t put it on a meeting agenda. I made the decision nobody else had been willing to make.

Our houses are also old. Mine was built in 1825 and requires a good amount of care; generations of Trumansburgers have maintained it to the best of their abilities, but houses are built outside, and that’s where the rain and ultraviolet radiation (the “damage functions”) are. Houses are built to take a beating, but they’re not indestructible. Without constant care, they deteriorate. If they’re not well-built, they rot faster. A property might also contain a garage, a barn, a shed…these structures typically decay at a more constant rate. Eventually, as a community evolves, a structure may cease to serve any sort of function at all.

What, then, is the point of keeping it? A remodel can’t save it – forcing an old building to take on a new role is sometimes a fool’s errand. A fresh coat of paint is a skin-deep effort. Occasionally it’s best to tear down an unusable building and replace it, and then new possibilities open up.

A new home, designed and built by professionals to high standards, beautiful & efficient, to house our new neighbors, perhaps? That would mean more customers for our Main Street. We could make new friends with fresh perspectives, the tax base would increase, and if the housing was affordable, a young family could live there…what do we, as a community, have to gain by closing our doors to new faces? Are we a community or a club?

What do we have to gain by saying “no?”

I like Trumansburg. It’s small, it’s friendly, and we look out for each other. I can rely on my neighbors to be good people and make good decisions. I’m thankful for my neighbors. One is an electrician, another is a carpenter, and we help each other with advice on our professional projects. They tolerate my occasional driveway debris and loud Halloween trick-or-treating lawn party. Nobody tells me what color I can paint my house, and nobody complains that my house has been in a state of repair for years. If Trumansburg had an active homeowner’s association, I wouldn’t have moved here.

If we don’t encroach on our neighbors, and a new plan colors within the lines established by the planning board, then it should be approved. Why wouldn’t we want our community to be continually refreshed?

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