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Board debates future of trees on Main Street

As crews work to make changes to the downtown streetscape in Jonesborough, leaders are taking a look at the obstacles standing in their way – namely, dozens of trees throughout the downtown area.
“There’s some trees on Main Street we are going to have to remove because of the damage they are causing to the sidewalk,” Craig Ford, town operations manager, told members of the Tree and Townscape Board at their meeting last week. “As far as some of the other trees, do we leave them, replace them or do we take them out altogether? I’m not suggesting we take them all down and start over or anything like that. I’m asking what you want me to do.”
Following along with a streetscape plan created by the design firm Equinox Environmental, Ford went tree by tree down the entire stretch of Main Street. In some cases, he informed board members that a tree must go because of the damage its roots are causing to the sidewalks. In other instances, Ford referred to a tree as a “Charlie Brown tree” that was not surviving in its downtown location and, for that reason, ought to be removed.
But the decisions about what to do with some of the other trees weren’t that simple.
Take for instance what Ford referred to as “one very huge” Bradford pear tree just outside of Mauk’s store on the west side of the downtown courthouse.
“It just absolutely blocks that building,” Ford said. “But you do have an awful lot of people sit under that tree for shade.”
Ford also expressed concern that, while the tree is the only shade tree on Main Street, it is “just a matter of time” before its trunk splits. Bradford pear trees are notorious for splitting.
But Tree and Townscape Board member Jim Eldridge wasn’t convinced.
“That tree might go down next year or it might stand another 20 years,” Eldridge said. “Look how long this tree has stood. It may never go down.”
Despite the size of the tree, it has not caused any damage to the sidewalk around it and the streetscape plan does not call for it to be removed.
“When we go and cut down a beautiful tree like this, people are going to scream to high heaven,” Eldridge said. “They’re going to fuss and complain. We’re going to get into a public relations headache.”
Tree and Townscape member Nancy Kavanaugh agreed that the tree should stay.
“It seems the old adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ applies here,” Kavanaugh said. “We leave it alone and move on to the things we need to spend the money on.”
The board agreed on several trees that would need to be removed or replaced, but didn’t go along with the design firm’s suggestion to add a tree to the plaza area in front of the International Storytelling Center.
“I think that is kind of a stretch,” Town Administrator Bob Browning concurred. “That also puts the visibility of the Storytelling Center in jeopardy. I don’t know that I would mess with that.”
Members were somewhat divided on what to do with a couple trees between North First and McCall avenues.
Ford pointed out two “crooked trees” and one that was “struggling” as needing to be replaced.
Board member Virginia Kennedy said the crooked trees were some of the last sassafras trees around and argued for keeping them. While Eldridge agreed that the crooked tree that is impeding pedestrian traffic should go, he encouraged the board to keep the other one, which sits in front of the UT Extension Office.
“They say a crooked tree has character,” Eldridge said. “That tree has character.”
Ford also pointed out several problems with the design firm’s plan, including the placement of trees in areas where there is not enough sidewalk space to allow for a tree.
One such location is at the corner of South First Avenue and Main Street, next to the Eureka Inn.
“There’s no way,” he said. “There’s nowhere to put it unless you put it in the street.”
Ford also took issue with at least two places where the firm called for the town to plant trees on someone else’s private property.
After giving Ford some guidance regarding the future of each downtown tree, the board voted unanimously to have tree wells put in for all new trees to be planted in downtown. Tree wells prevent tree roots from growing out, instead guiding the roots to grow downward.
The board also passed a motion for Equinox to revisit its streetscape plan to provide a design for the area from McCall Avenue to Third Avenue. The motion came after board members expressed concern that the area had been practically ignored in the current design plan.