Sawmills says yes to trees

Apr. 17, 2013 @ 07:45 AM

Sawmills Town Hall was standing room only Tuesday night.

Nearly 40 citizens filled every chair in the room and every parking space in the lot. Combine that with council members and town staff, and the room almost met its fire marshal’s occupancy limit.

The issue at hand?

Trees.

The Town of Sawmills took over Doe Run subdivision in 2006. The lake-access development was lined with Bradford pear trees planted in medians.

The Bradford pears became a selling point for the site and a scenic point of pride for homeowners. But their root system was so strong, it was causing the adjacent roads to deteriorate.

Leave them there, the town’s contracted engineers said, and the roads would ultimately have to be resurfaced – for as much as $100,000 in taxpayers’ money.

So, on the engineers’ recommendation, last month the trees were removed and the medians were left bare. The town appropriated $4,000 for replacement landscaping – pending a public hearing.

That hearing was held at the town’s regular council meeting Tuesday. Those in attendance were mostly Doe Run residents who wanted their trees back. But there was a handful of dissenters as well – people who didn’t think the $4,000 expenditure was appropriate since it benefited only one subdivision, and because it wasn’t a need-based issue.

Many who showed up on behalf of Doe Run had seen a petition circulating throughout the neighborhood, and flyers announcing the date of the town meeting.

South Caldwell High principal Mike Peake and his wife, Catherine Peake, were outspoken defenders of the Bradford pears.

When discussion started to drift among the council members, Mike Peake spoke up from the audience: “Honor your word,” he said. “Honor your word.”

Catherine Peake said she was shocked when she came home and the trees were gone.

“I could not believe how bare it was,” she said. “I just automatically assumed they were planning to put something back.”

Defense of the trees kept coming back to reasoning similar to Mike Peake’s: The town should keep its word, the trees defenders said.

“If you decided then, it seems like you knew there would be a need for something,” Doe Run resident Terri Buchanan said. “If you have the money put aside, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Aaron Joyner lives in Hayes Mill Landing, but the only way to get to his house is to drive through Doe Run – and he wasn’t happy when the trees disappeared with no warning, he said.

“I’m mostly here because I care about the fact that communication was not handled properly,” he said.

Those who spoke against the trees had an echoing phrase, too: “It’s a want, not a need.”

Reid Lingerfelt retired from the Sawmills Fire Department. He does not live in Doe Run.

It’s his stance that in a town where some people can’t afford much of anything, those people should be taken care of first, he said.

“There’s more needs in this town than trees,” Lingerfelt said.

Only about four people showed up to speak against the Doe Run landscaping, but Lingerfelt said he thinks others will be angry.

“There’s going to be a lot of people in the town that’s upset about it, because they’re doing that for this place and not for them,” he said.

With a 3-1 vote, the Sawmills Town Council voted to spend $4,000 to re-landscape the medians in Doe Run. The expense will be capped at $4,000, and residents will be responsible for day-to-day maintenance themselves; that’ll be handled through the new neighborhood liaison, Catherine Peake.

Pending budgetary decisions, another $5,000 will be allocated next year for an Adopt a Spot grant that Sawmills citizens can use to beautify other parts of town.

One councilman was missing from the vote: Donnie Potter, who lives in Doe Run.

He had been told by the town attorney it would be a conflict of interest to vote, he said. He planned, instead, to speak as a citizen of Sawmills and abstain from voting. Potter advocated for the landscaping throughout the night, always prefacing his comments with phrases like “as a community representative,” or “as a member of this community.”