Tree City plan stirs emotions

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apparently, people get pretty testy about trees these days.

When Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes brought up the issue ofthe “Tree City USA” program through the Arbor Day Foundation at theBrookhaven Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night, emotions endedup running a little high.

Estes told the board that in order to become a part of theprogram, which provides direction, assistance and recognition forforestry programs in thousands of towns and cities, could assistthe city in grants toward beautification.

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Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell told Estes that she would needto field some of his phone calls if there were going to beordinances regulating trees in the city.

“I have businesses that just call me all the time,” he said. “Ithink we need to be careful and with whatever you do, find a happymedium.”

Estes said that was the reason she believes the board shouldlook over several ordinances and find one that is for the best ofthe city.

“We don’t need to regulate trees on private property, period,”Maxwell said. “That’s what it’s getting to, Shirley, and we don’tneed to do this.”

Estes said it was her opinion that the ordinance should regulatetrees on city property, not private property. Maxwell, though,expressed disbelief.

“I’m fine with limiting it, but I’m not for making people docertain things with trees on their property,” he said. “You’reworking that way.”

Estes took exception with Maxwell’s assessment of herintentions.

“I’m not trying to do that,” she said. “You can’t tell me whichway I’m working. I know which way I’m working. You don’t.”

Estes ended up suggesting that a committee be put together tocome up with ordinances for trees in the city, as Tree City USArequires a city ordinance in the criteria for selection. She askedthat Ward Six Alderman David Phillips be installed as chairman ofthat committee, and recused herself from the tree panel.

“Since we have a board member that says he knows which way I’mgoing to go, I’m trying to shift directions,” she said. “I’mwilling to take myself off the committee. We’ve talked about thisfor about five years now, the benefits of trees in the city.”

Phillips said he had no problem with chairing the committee.

“We absolutely don’t want to regulate trees on private property,though a lot of communities do,” he said, later adding, “You canoverdo anything, but when the First Impressions program came toBrookhaven, one of the first things they talked about was beauty ofour city, and the trees, and how it makes it more livable. Wecertainly don’t intend to overdo that.”

Estes said she believed that the committee needed to come upwith a board that would include business owners and city residentsimpacted by the ordinance. But she continued to insist that thereis no reason to regulate trees on private property.

“I don’t think that would fly here, and I don’t think it shouldfly here, and that’s not what I’m suggesting,” she said.

While nothing concrete was discussed, there have been issuesbefore of businesses cutting down trees planted by the city in theright of way. Some business owners have claimed that some treesblocked visibility of their stores.