Last Thursday’s Town Board meeting had two contentious items, the broadband public hearing and Main Street tree planting plan. Let me provide my perspective.
As the presiding officer of the meeting I take responsibility for not managing this agenda item better. The plan that the Land Use Committee developed in conjunction with DOT and Highlands Chamber representatives was included in the agenda packet for consideration by the full board. Procedurally, I should had made it clear that the plan in the packet was the one put forth by the committee and should be considered first. The proposal to add three additional trees that Commissioner Eric Pierson brought forth for review was developed after the first plan was developed.
The images of the plan and the additional trees were presented in a continuous sequence, giving the impression that the first plan was no longer under consideration. Given the confusion, I believe tabling the proposal was the best course of action. The Land Use Committee and Chamber representatives will meet before the January Town Board Meeting to review the issue and again make recommendations.
During the ensuing discussion some people implied that the board had a hidden agenda to scuttle the plan recommended by the Land Use Committee. That is simply not the case. Commissioner Pierson proposed an alternative after realizing the large separations between the trees on the first plan. He wanted to provide a visual to show the difference of adding three trees would have before a plan was voted on. Some may question why the mayor allowed him to present this idea. My response is that commissioners, as elected public officials, can introduce an idea or topic for discussion at any Highlands Town Board Meeting. As it should be, I do not have the authority to limit what the board members want to discuss.
I listened carefully to the statements made during this review. One merchant stated he worries the additional trees will hide his business sign intended to attract customers. Another statement was made that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” My response was that it’s not necessarily the case. Trees and money may go hand in hand. There is ample consumer research confirming business districts with green tree canopies, in fact, attract more customers. Kathleen Wolf of the University of Washington has written extensively on urban trees and consumer behavior. A business district with aesthetic architecture and street landscape motivate customers to park their cars, walk and stay in a business district.
In 2003 Virginia Postrel wrote her groundbreaking book, The Substance of Style. The book’s thesis is that we are now living in an aesthetic economy as much as a mass marketing, convenience economy. Communities like Highlands that embrace the aesthetic economy attract visitors. In contrast, the mass marketing, convenience economy centers around large illuminated and flashing signs that form business strip zones containing fast food and chain stores, all of which boldly display larger than life national logos. Instead, Highlands has opted for an aesthetic, distinctively green Main Street with limited signage. I believe that is the concept supporting the proposed additional trees. The question is how many? The issue will be reviewed again at the January meeting.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor