The dense commercial stretch of Patton Avenue isn’t exactly a tree-lover’s paradise, but the finer specimens stand out. So when the Wells Fargo branch at the corner of Patton and Louisiana avenues cut down some mature trees growing near its new sign recently, community objections reverberated.
One of the cut trees, a mature English oak, was a “Treasured Tree” designated by Asheville Greenworks; the other two were cherry trees planted years ago by that group’s volunteers.
Following protests from concerned citizens and environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, and PARC — the local office of Wells Fargo has agreed to plant several new trees.
Lynn Blackwell, local property manager for Wells Fargo, recently told the groups that the bank proposes planting two 15-foot cherry trees and one English oak,10-12 feet in height. That plan may be approved by the city soon, observers say.
But according to the Sierra Club’s Judy Mattox, the group’s request to Wells Fargo is twofold. In addition to replacing the cut trees, the groups are asking that the bank make an additional contribution that recognizes the greater value of mature trees, particularly a “Treasured Tree,” over that of young, replanted trees.
“They understand that part of Asheville’s history, culture and ‘Treasure’ has been destroyed,” says Mattox, “and that they need to try to make up the monetary difference between the lost “Treasured Tree,” which is priceless, and the new trees which they intend to plant.”
To that end, the local WENOCA chapter of the Sierra Club presented Wells Fargo with three proposals: 1) donate to Asheville Greenworks, which has recommended planting on both sides of Patton Avenue at an upcoming Arbor Day Celebration on the site; 2) donate to the WNC Alliance to support the development of new educational material intended for citizens regarding care and maintenance of trees; and 3) sponsor a tree-mapping effort which would identify significant Asheville trees so that management needs can be documented and carried out appropriately.
At the same time, a small change in procedures for tree removals is in the works. According to Assistant City Planner Shannon Tuch, the city is moving to refer future requests for tree removals — where those trees help properties meet their city-mandated vegetation requirements — for evaluation by the so-called Alternative Compliance Subcommittee of the Asheville Tree Commission.
Tree Commission member Bob Gale said that such referrals would provide an opportunity for members to examine the sites in person to see if alternatives to cutting could be worked out. Tuch said such requests are few, occurring less than once a year.
But could something more deliberate happen when ‘Treasured Trees’ are proposed for cutting? That would require an inventory and tracking system that doesn’t now exist, but Asheville Greenworks’ director Susan Roderick has plans for updating their original ‘Treasured Tree’ inventory.
“We’ll go out and look at them all, and take new photos, and do a new brochure that lists them all,” she tells Xpress. In addition, the group wants to develop some new signage that labels them.
But getting these trees protected for the long term is another matter. “Trees are private property,” Roderick points out. “We can’t say to owners that they can’t take their trees down.
“The city’s not going to pass something like that,” Roderick adds, while noting that her group can “build up a positive aura and PR around a tree,” enabling landscape architects and others working for property owners to take account of special trees and integrate them into their plans. “One thing we can do is to make sure that every owner of a Treasured Tree knows that they do.”
Perhaps therein lies the silver lining to the story, Mattox suggests. “With raising public consciousness, and neighborhoods getting involved in nominating significant trees…hopefully, the city’s trees won’t [again] face what happened with Wells Fargo.”
At press time, Sierra Club had received no notice of a decision on its additional demands presented to Wells Fargo.