Manheim tree controversy may lead to city changes

Following controversy about the cutting down of trees in the Historic Manheim Park neighborhood, the city invited residents to an informational meeting this afternoon. Residents of the neighborhood from 39th Street to Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard, Troost Avenue to the Paseo, told developers several years ago replacing sidewalks was a high priority. But other neighbors are now protesting because trees have been removed in order to put in the sidewalks.

The controversy that has erupted over removal of trees to make way for new sidewalks is still not settled – but it’s almost certain to lead to changes in the way the city handles tree removal in the future.

The city’s Sean Demory took questions at today’s meeting.

The city held an informational meeting this afternoon to respond to questions about the removal of about 70 trees in the Historic Manheim Park neighborhood. City public works spokesman Sean Demory said at the meeting that the city is now reconsidering the process it will use when it needs to remove trees to install sidewalks in the future.

The new sidewalks are part of the Green Impact Zone initiative, an effort to concentrate improvements in a 150-square-block area of the city.

Neighbors protested last week after the city began cutting down trees to put in new sidewalks. Some neighbors chained themselves to trees in an effort to save them. Bill Drummond, one of those protestors, said “it’s an issue of environmental justice.“ He says the old-growth sycamore trees are part of the unique character of the neighborhood. He and others have asked the city to put a 30-day moratorium on the removal of trees to consider alternatives.

Environmentalists including Jill DeWitt of the Burroughs Audabon Society have joined in expressing concern about the removal of the trees. She said she’s concerned the area has become more a “concrete impact zone rather than a green impact zone.” She has asked the city to consider installing flexible sidewalks made out of recycled tires, which some cities started using a few years ago.

Since the protests began, the city has admitted it should have evaluated each tree before any were removed, and that it should have let neighbors know that the trees were going to be removed. City Forester Kevin Lapointe said today, “When the project is over, about 147 trees will remain in the area along right of ways ” and about 68, or one-third of the trees, will need to be removed.

The city’s depiction of the area after the new sidewalks are installed.

The president of the Historic Manheim Park Association, Saundra Hayes, says the tree removal should be considered as just one part of the overall revitalization project, which the city and green impact zone staff have been discussing for years. She says when Manheim Park residents met with developers, they said getting sidewalks fixed was a big priority for them. “The neighbors I’ve talked to want the sidewalks fixed. If you could save the trees too, that would be great.” But she admits it would have been better if the city had handled the situation differently.

Demory says the city has heard that message, and will be reevaluating the way it handles sidewalks and trees in the future. He said today the city will be sending a letter to residents to inform them of the next steps.