Home / Mobile / Preserving Mobile's live oaks: 'Pig in a poke' or firm commitment? – AL.com

Preserving Mobile's live oaks: 'Pig in a poke' or firm commitment? – AL.com

The majestic live oak is a Deep South emblem for strength and beauty, with lifespans of hundreds of years. When they are unceremoniously removed, outrage follows.

“Remember when that rabid Alabama fan poisoned the Auburn trees?” Pete Burns, a Mobile attorney, said Tuesday, referring to the notorious 2010 crime at Toomer’s Corner.

“Remember when the guy girdled the Inspiration Oak at Magnolia Springs?” Burns continued, referring to tragic vandalism in 1990 when someone sawed a ring around the trunk of a giant live oak in Baldwin County, sentencing it to death.

He added, “It was an international issue. Why? The trees are irreplaceable.”

The history lessons, and ringing praise for the tree that’s an unofficial symbol of Mobile, were heard again and again Tuesday at a hearing before the Mobile City Council.

In the end, the council voted 6-1 to deny an appeal from residents protesting a project that involves removing 62 live oak trees along Broad Street and the Hank Aaron Loop. But the council members expressed plenty of admiration for the residents’ passion.

The appeal was aimed at a reversal of a Feb. 21 city Tree Commission decision endorsing the tree removals. The project will pave the way what city officials call a “transformative” streetscape redevelopment on downtown’s west side.

Councilwoman Bess Rich was the only “No” vote.

‘Modicum of success’

The council’s action didn’t endorse any long-range tree plan that the city might have in store for its $22 million revitalization of Broad Street. That project is primarily financed through a $14 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant received in 2016.

Instead, the council endorsed a verbal agreement that members of a neighborhood group, called the Government Street Collaborative, struck with Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office for potential preservation of some of the trees slated for removal.

“We feel we’ve had a modicum of success,” said Bill Boswell, a representative of the collaborative and a resident along Government Street, one of coastal Alabama’s best-known oak-canopied roadways.

Key points of the verbal agreement:

  • Reduce the amount of parallel parking that would be added as part of the overall Broad Street project, in favor of salvaging some of the live oaks.
  • Establish a mitigation plan to find property owners along Broad Street willing to plant live oaks and replace those which will be removed.
  • Develop an advisory committee consisting of neighborhood activists from Oakleigh, Leinkauf, Old Dauphin Way and elsewhere. The group would provide advice on larger-scale projects on a host of issues, including whether to preserve live oaks, and would provide communication back to other neighborhood leaders.

Boswell requested that the council grant one more week to “put into writing” the issues that were verbally agreed upon between the collaborative and Stimpson’s administration.

He said that a number of residents within the collaborative were concerned about moving forward without written agreements from Stimpson, who was not at Tuesday’s hearing. Also absent was Stimpson’s chief of staff, Paul Wesch.

Boswell said his group plans to schedule a meeting with the mayor soon.

“I’ve asked for a conversation with him and some type of signed agreement by the end of the week,” said Boswell, adding that the mayor will return to Mobile Government Plaza on Thursday. “I firmly believe this administration has acted on good faith.”

‘Commitment’ or distrust?

Mobile City Councilman Levon Manzie addresses an audience of supporters for live oak trees along Broad Street during the council's meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The council voted 6-1 to deny a citizen's appeal of a previous tree commission decision after a negotiation among all the parties produced a tentative plan to ensure that more trees could be saved. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

Mobile City Councilman Levon Manzie addresses an audience of supporters for live oak trees along Broad Street during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The council voted 6-1 to deny a citizen’s appeal of a previous tree commission decision after a negotiation among all the parties produced a tentative plan to ensure that more trees could be saved. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

A majority of council members felt confident in the verbal agreements. They also said that future construction contracts, which would include a written tree plan, still must come back to them for consideration.

“The commitments made, I believe those are firm commitments,” said Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the downtown area. “A tree plan has to be submitted with the contracts relative to the TIGER grant. If what is submitted to us is not satisfactory to the majority of this group, we’ll have a secondary option not to move forward.”

Nick Amberger, the city’s engineer, urged against a one-week delay. He has advocated for the council to approve various issues pertaining to the Broad Street project in order not to jeopardize deadlines and other issues related to the TIGER grant. The city has until September to obligate the grant money, and has until 2024 to spend it.

“It’s a very dynamic project,” said Amberger. “I don’t believe we have a week to spare.”

Burns, though, called the verbal agreement a “pig in a poke,” and advocated for more time so all parties could get a better understanding on which trees can be realistically saved.

Boswell said the collaborative hopes to find “10 or 15” live oaks that can be saved.

“If it ends up being five, we’ll be disappointed,” he said. “But it’s five more trees that we had earlier of the 62. We’ll work with the city, and I think they’ll work with us.”

But distrust clearly abounds. Boswell said that residents were surprised by a parallel parking plan along Broad Street that would force the cutting of a good number of live oaks, many which are relatively young.

He said that his group first learned about the parking plan last month, during the Tree Commission meeting. He said that the lack of transparency over what was in store for the trees fueled concerns.

Amberger said the overall plan calls for planting plenty of trees to compensate for the removals. All in all, the area would gain 114 trees, although many of them wouldn’t be live oaks.

Amberger said he’s since had 18 “different engagements” with residents within the past month about the tree plan.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go,” said Amberger.

Said Boswell, “I feel very comfortable today that the administration understands they made a mistake in not involving the neighborhoods more in depthly in this process and that going forward, we’ll have a more open and better process.”


Source link

Check Also

Unoccupied Mobile Home Destroyed in Fire – KTVN

Popular Stories  Nevada News  Sports  Campaign 2020  Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *