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Broad Street Tiger Grant Targets Live Oaks

At the Febv. 19th Tree Commission meeting, citizens who have followed the Broad street project from its initial “Bring Back Broad” days, were stunned to learn, for the first time, that 55 trees, including almost 50 mature Live Oaks, are targeted for removal, and not only that, this is the SECOND GROUP of trees, the first group having already received approval, apparently without a fully public process since the Tree Commission website shows no meeting agenda with the case. The surprises continued a week later at the Feb. 26th Council meeting when the Mayor revealed, when asked, that the total number of trees to date approved for removal is 160, and 67 are live oak, of which 15 are deemed unhealthy.

This has brought into the daylight a change, somewhere around 2015-2016, in the state Tree law that grants pre-emptive authority to a mayor to bypass a city’s Tree Commission and certify approval for any number of “protected” trees if the mayor feels the removal is necessary…”Ala.Code 1975 § 11-72-9

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), no person shall cut, remove, trim, or in any way damage any tree in any street right-of-way in the Class 2 municipality or create any condition injurious to any tree without having first made a written application so to do to the commission and having obtained advance written permission from the commission. Any governmental body or utility may, by filing an application accompanied by a certificate as hereinafter provided, obtain a continuing permission to trim, cut, or remove at any time any trees in any area described in its application for such permission….The commission may in its discretion hold public hearings on any application and may approve part of an application or may approve an application upon terms and conditions as the commission may establish. In considering any application before it, the commission shall base its decision on whether the public and private benefit that will result from granting the application outweighs the public and private benefit that will result from denying it. In the event the mayor of the Class 2 municipality or public utility shall certify to the commissioners that it desires to trim, cut, or remove trees and that it is or may become reasonably necessary to do so to prevent a public hazard or to provide efficient or economical service to the public, then such certificate shall be conclusive evidence for the approval of the application, and the commission shall approve the same, and there shall be no appeal from such approval except as provided inSection 11-72-10.

Listen to Bill Finch discuss this and other issues related to the Broad St project at this link:

The tree discussion starts at about 9:40 and runs to about 21:11, then calls come in on the topic.

By the Feruary 26 Council meeting, all 5 of the historic districts in the Collaborative , as well as several street associations, businesses, and individuals, had decided to support an appeal of the Tree Commission’s approval. All responding voiced that healthy trees which don’t have to come down should be protected. All also voiced a desire for the original 2016 Tiger Grant Plan, which built on the earlier Bring Back Broad, to be implemented in order to meet the plan’s goals of producing a people-friendly city street that will reconnect north to south and east to west neighborhoods and people to such important city features and services as the GM&O transit hub, Three Mile Creek greenway, and downtown shopping and entertainment.

The original Tiger Grant plan in the 2016 narrative submission, presents a vision every Mobilian should love, of a renewed Broad Street that:

*Renovates Broad Street infrastructure (renews and redesigns surfacing and places utilities underground (!!), though is sadly lacking in a commitment to any pervious paved surfacing along off-road ROW

*Follows “road diet’ and “complete street” urban design to reduce auto lanes, thus REconnecting midtown to our downtown core, to the GM&O transit hub, to the Brookley complex, to the 3 Mile Creek project, as well as north-to-south and east-to-west residential neighborhoods, through the installation of pedestrian- and bike-friendly accommodations and traffic calming strategies

*Provides: ”Enhanced landscaping,..street furnishings…improved lighting…street trees…safety”

The issues arose when the implementation of these inarguably positive goals became public for the first time, presented by city engineering to the Tree Commission last week. While earlier public meetings were held, only the vision was described, which included numerous diagrams showing large street tree icons from the engineer’s toolkit, but the gritty details of actual implementation were missing in action.

The question becomes which and how many trees must be sacrificed, how will they be replaced if at all, and who makes those decisions, and where in the decision-making will the “Will of the People” whose daily lives are impacted be considered?

After all, real people, from youngsters to the elderly and even the infirm, would walk that street, ride Lime Bikes on that street, wait for buses on that street, cross that street to walk to downtown food and entertainment options, follow that street to the 3 Mile Creek area or to work at Brookley or to transit at the GM&O, and from April to October, need the heat reduction and comfort that only dense shade can provide in a city. Anyone who removes shade trees should have to walk Broad Street’s 4 miles at the high noon lunch hour in high summer every day. Then we’ll talk.

Feb. 26 Update: At the February 26 Council meeting, the Council invited a citizen’s appeal as the only appropriate route to bring concerns to the forefront. I am certain many midtown and downtown associations and districts will do so. The Mayor assured audience members that every oak which could be saved would be saved. He said that the total number of trees to be removed for the project-to-date is 160, 67 of which are live oaks. Of those 15 are deemed unhealthy or unstable and the remaining are in the way of construction. When Councilwoman Rich asked if the city had pursued ROW expansions to allow hard surfacing to go around trees, the Mayor stated that was a measure that was too cumbersome to attempt. Councilwoman Gregory stated that in her area it was routine to go around tree trunks. The Mayor graciously invited Council members to join staff on a walk the full length of the project to look at each tree to be removed and hear the explanation for its sacrifice. The Mayor stated he would be glad to meet with a small citizen group in his office, but neither he nor Council agreed to the public forum requested by speaker Bill Boswell, who was representing a number of midtown and downtown historic districts.

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