Too many unanswered questions and unknown consequences had Highlands Board of Commissioners hit the brakes on adding trees to Main Street between 3rd and 5th Streets at yesterday’s Town Board meeting. After discussion between those both for and against adding trees (majority being against), and some attendees storming out of the meeting voicing their objection to adding trees and their frustration with the Board, the item was tabled and is being sent back to the Land Use Committee.
“This item is being tabled until further study and a new plan can be developed,” said Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor. “More than likely, not in time for the DoT paving.”
Pictured below are members of the public addressing Highlands Board of Commissioners encouraging the use of caution in the decision to add trees to Main Street in downtown Highlands.
NC Department of Transportation is scheduled to resurface Main Street in early April. Adding trees along the roadway has been discussed at multiple town board, special, and committee meetings. Throughout this entire process loomed the April resurface date of Main Street, and if the trees are approved, can they be added before the road is repaved. This gave many involved a sense of urgency to get the ball rolling on this project to beat the resurface date.
The issue before the Board last night was to determine whether to add four trees to Main Street, add seven trees to Main Street, or don’t add any additional trees at all. Several members of the public spoke in opposition to additional trees or moving too quickly when making this decision. Questions about cost, quantity, location, type of tree, grates, curbs, etc., were all unanswered, or at least not very clear.
Town Engineer Lamar Nix gave a brief rundown of the costs, but unknowns such as tree diameter, type of tree, using brick or asphalt surrounding the new tree, will the tree have electricity, can electricity be added later, can trees be added after the initial group, what kind of damage would that do to the newly resurfaced road if they were added later? These questions caused the cost of purchase and installation of each new tree to range from $1,000-$3,000 with several unknowns that could have long-term consequences if the trees do not work out.
Commissioner Amy Patterson brought up the idea of clustering the new trees in the center of each block so more trees could be added later with proper spacing and to avoid the appearance of sporadically placed trees throughout Main Street.
“Instead of spacing them far apart you can make them more clustered,” said Patterson. “You put them in the middle and then you can build out. Isolated trees look OK, but not what we’re envisioning. They need space and soil, but need it to look like a designed oasis, not sporadic trees.”
Up until this point, the primary issue at yesterday’s meeting was the number of trees to add, which ended up being 0. Now, the location of additional trees was being called into question. Locations that seemed to be settled after receiving approval from the NC DoT for some spacing violations that needed to be ironed out.
Owner of The Christmas Tree Bob Kieltyka said there is no consensus between commissioners, business owners, or residents, and moving forward on this would be a hasty decision.
“I would hate taxpayer dollars being spent to use a chainsaw in a couple of years if it doesn’t work out,” said Kieltyka. “I highly recommend tabling this until a master plan or firm numbers are in place.”
Steve Mehder addressed the Board and said in his years of experience working on commercial and industrial projects, he would never try and have a project approved without more information.
“In order to vote on something, you need to have a clear, or at least a clear approximation of the numbers,” he said. “I recommend this go back to committee.”
Commissioner Brian Stiehler voiced concerns about the new trees’ ability to survive and does not believe additional trees will thrive in a tightly confined area. He added that the maple trees at the ends of each block between 3rd and 5th streets in downtown Highlands are not looking good and trees added according to the proposed plan will have a much smaller space to grow.
“These trees are not going to be healthy is what I’m saying,” said Stiehler. “I think Main Street works well, I personally wouldn’t do anything to it.”
Taylor said Commissioner Donnie Calloway could not attend yesterday’s meeting because of family issues, but said Calloway was not in favor of approving additional trees on Main Street.
Taylor said with all the unknowns, sending it back to committee was the logical choice.
“I think we need to take a step back and do more research,” said Taylor. “We have a lot of moving parts that are still unknown.”
Commissioners on the Land Use Committee include Calloway, Dotson, and Eric Pierson.
Pictured at the top of the article is the Owner of The Christmas Tree, Bob Kieltyka, addressing the Commissioners at last night’s monthly Town Board meeting and asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they were against adding trees to Main Street.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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