The Mobile Tree Commission approved a city-sponsored plan to cut down more than four dozen trees, including live oaks, to make way for improvements to Broad Street.
Staring down a June deadline for more than $14.5 million in federal funds, city officials went before the Tree Commission at its Tuesday afternoon meeting to ask to be allowed to cut down 48 live oaks and 14 crepe myrtles so can construction can begin on improvements to Broad Street and other downtown corridors, through a TIGER grant award. The commission voted 3-1 to approve the measure. Only Commissioner Jesse McDaniel voted against it. Vice-Chairman Terry Plauche, Commissioner William Rooks and Commissioner Cleve Formwalt all voted in favor.
City Engineer Nick Amberger said the request was simply a second phase, or continuation of a plan already approved by the commission. Amberger said everyone involved with the massive project is having to make concessions and the taking down of the trees is just part of the compromise.
Proponents of the project have asked that bike lanes and pedestrian walkways be added to the plans, Amberger said. Those plans would take up too much space to allow the 48 live oaks to thrive. He said the Alabama Department of Transportation had already allowed the project to reduce the lane size to 10 feet instead of the state 12 feet for a U.S. Highway. The plan also calls for a “lane diet,” meaning Broad Street’s three lanes each direction will be reduced to two, according to Amberger.
The plan calls for the replanting of 216 trees, but none of those will be live oaks. According to the city, the replacement trees include 57 nuttall oaks as well as number of cypress varieties and myrtle varieties.
Most who spoke in opposition of the plan were in favor of the larger project, but thought it could be completed without removing so many live oaks. Kelly Baker, a downtown resident, questioned why no live oaks would be replacing the ones coming down.
“Where’s the compromise in taking down live oaks and not replacing them,” she said. “That’s not a compromise. I don’t think we’re getting a compromise.”
Resident Harold Bolton argued that the proposed replacement trees as part of the plan would provide “no shade” and make it hard to use the planned improvements once they’re completed.
“Who is going to a job, who is going to walk, who is going to ride a bike in the hot summer sun with no shade? He asked. “They’re not going to go there, and if they do they’re a fool.”
On the issue of shade, Urban Forester Peter Toler told the crowd that a nuttall oak could provide about as much coverage as a live oak in an urban environment.
Amberger said the plan retains 62 live oaks already, but there won’t be room with the impending changes to save more and, at the same time, allow them to thrive.
“You can’t cage up an elephant in a small box and expect him to survive,” he said. “That’s what we do when we plant live oaks on small strips of land.”
The commission contemplated delaying the vote until next month’s meeting, but Amberger asked that a vote be taken at the meeting because of a June deadline to have everything in place for the grant award.
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