Friday, September 9, 2016

“I think that I shall never see A greenway lovely as a tree”

IMPORTANT:  The City is busy decimating the trees along the French Broad River as we publish this article. Say goodbye to your lovely 100 year old trees before it's too late (like Monday). Read this article to learn why not having a Master Street Tree Plan is ruining your French Broad and scroll to the bottom to see the video coverage.

The city’ Master Street Tree Plan is supposed to regulate cutting.  
Problem is, it doesn’t exist.  And here come the greenways.
By Roger McCredie

"Cool, Green Asheville"

In the late 1970’s the Asheville Chamber of Commerce launched a promotion centered around the slogan “Cool, Green Asheville.”  Posters, billboards, buttons and bumper stickers, all saying “Cool, Green Asheville” in relaxing shades of green and blue, blossomed region-wide,  touting Asheville as a getaway haven, an oasis of peace, quiet and natural beauty in the frantic desert of  the daily national grind.

Asheville is a Tree City

And in 1980, in keeping with this positioning, Asheville became a Tree City.  Now the visuals could read, “Welcome to Cool, Green Asheville, Tree City USA.”

The Tree City USA program was begun in 1976 by the Arbor Day Foundation as a means of encouraging cities across the country to plant more trees and to protect the trees they already possessed.   There are now more than 3,400 Tree City USA municipalities across America, including 85 in North Carolina, only two of which – Farmville and Wake Forest – have been members longer than Asheville.  

Tree City Membership Standards

Cities achieve membership “by meeting four core standards of sound urban forestry management:
  • maintaining a tree board or department,
  • having a community tree ordinance,
  • spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and
  • celebrating Arbor Day.”
checkmarkArbor Day
Well, Asheville certainly celebrates Arbor Day, mainly under the auspices of the nonprofit Asheville GreenWorks.  A full day of activities is already scheduled for next April, including a proclamation from the mayor, a tree circus, and tree climbing demonstrations. So, check.  

checkmarkAsheville has a Tree Commission.  Check.
questionmark$2 per capita on urban forestry
Whether the city spends $166,000 a year ($2 a head times a population of 83,000) on “urban forestry” is probably difficult to compute, so, question mark.  

xmarkTree Ordinance? Uh … no.Oh, there’s a place for a tree ordinance – a city statute regulating tree pruning and removal among other things – right there in the Asheville Municipal Code.  Chapter 20-5 (b) (1) reads:  
“The parks and recreation director shall be responsible for formulating a Master Street Tree Plan (MSTP). The MSTP shall specify the species for tree planting. The MSTP shall also identify all regulated trees by type and location that have been specifically designated by the Asheville City Council as historic trees. Prior to its publication, the MSTP shall be presented to the commission for review and recommendation and for adoption by city council. From and after the effective date of the MSTP or any amendments thereof, the MSTP shall govern the species of trees to be planted. In developing the MSTP, consideration shall be given to the existing and future utility and environmental factors in recommending a specific species for each of the streets and other city property.”
Beaucatcher Greenway tests existence of Tree Ordinance

But the ordinance itself is not there, as some concerned citizens discovered when they tried to get the city to tread more carefully, especially with regard to cutting down trees, in creating its much-heralded greenway system.  

At least, that’s what the city indicated in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Ashevillian Will Spoon this past Spring.  Spoon and his fiancée, Lisa Bakale-Wise, an attorney formerly of New Orleans, live on Beaucatcher Mountain, adjacent to the proposed footprint of the Beaucatcher Greenway.  On March 25, after not having heard back from the city, Spoon asked Ben Farmer, who is Senior Office Assistant in the city’s Legal Department, if there had been “any progress” on processing his request.  He added:
“I spoke to [Parks and Recreation Director] Roderick Simmons and he said he never produced [a tree plan] and does not think the Asheville Master Street Tree Plan as described in Chapter 20-5(b)(1) of the municipal code has ever been created or published. The Tree Commission also indicated they have never reviewed or known it to exist. If you can confirm it has never been created or published, it would be much appreciated.”
 “I have found the same to be true.  The City of Asheville does not have a Master Street Tree Plan,” Farmer replied.
Greenway Tourism vs. Conservation

Asheville Tourism PerspectiveProponents say the greenway, part of a nascent network of greenways surrounding the city, would be a jewel in Asheville’s crown, affording superb hiking and bicycling as well as spectacular views of downtown.  

Conservation Perspective
But conservationists say it would ravage the hillside forest, scar the landscape, and obliterate irreplaceable old-growth trees.

Property Owner Perspective
Property owners in the area (both in the path and down the slope) fear its proposed ten-foot asphalt roadbed would cause catastrophic stormwater runoff, resulting in mudslides and flooding, and would also wreck neighborhood privacy.  And critics of city government see it as yet another example of reckless disregard for the consequences of pushing through a pet project.

Petition and Counter Petitions
Spoon and Bakale-Wise in February started circulating a petition headed “Save Beaucatcher Mountain.”  The petition stated, “For eight months community members have suggested viable options that accomplish the same [greenway construction] goals faster, cheaper, with less environmental damage, and with community support instead of opposition,” But, it continues, “Asheville Parks refuses to conduct any environmental impact assessment by qualified professionals.
Greenway enthusiasts promptly countered with a petition endorsing the greenway plans and charging the anti-greenway forces with disseminating “misinformation.”

Freedom of Information Act Request = 10 Gigabytes of Data
On June 3 Spoon made a FOIA request for “a copy of any plan or project approved by the city of Asheville that includes tree removal details or for which trees were approved to be cut from today's date going back to January 2010.”

Responding to Spoon, Farmer said, “There have been 34 projects since 2011 that were executed by either Public Works or Capital Projects that may have involved tree removal.”  Farmer told Spoon on August 16 that complying with Spoon’s August 16 request could take as long as six [additional] weeks and could involve compiling more than 10 gigabytes of data.

Massive tree cutting begins on French Broad River to make room for.... Greenways
Meanwhile tree removal continues apace at the site of the emerging French Broad Greenway, along 2.2 miles of riverfront between Carrier Park on the soth and the Hominy Creek Greenway on the north.  That greenway embraces the city’s River Arts District, where the city is using its powers of eminent domain to take over more than 30 private properties.  The city has brushed aside concerns about cutting mature trees and their root systems, which some say will dangerously destabilize the river’s banks in that flood-prone area. 

Property owners in that area visited the Asheville Tree Commission who told them they had nothing to do with City Projects.  To read that article, click here.

They went further and hired an arborist to evaluate the area and published that report.  Click here to read

Beaucatcher Greenway Silence
AU reached out to city Greenways Coordinator Lucy Crown for an update on the Beaucatcher Mountain greenway’s progress.  Crown forwarded the inquiry to Simmons, who has so far not replied.

It is not clear how the absence of a city tree ordinance would affect Asheville’s standing as a “Tree City USA.”

####
ADDITIONAL VIDEO COVERAGE:
As part of this report, we thought we should share a video, taken today, September 9, 2016, showing the massive tree cutting occuring on the French Broad River in the River Arts District close to 12 Bones. While the City's Tree Commission regulates private property tree cutting, it has nothing to do with the City. In fact, the City has no plans and regulations of it's own.  Here's what they get away with:

Tree Cutting as of September 9, 2016:

This video was taken February 2016. The trees in it are now gone:


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