Asheville-area citizens stand by their trees, as Shannon Tuch, assistant director at the city’s planning department can confirm.
When a contractor for the new Wells Fargo bank branch at Patton and Louisiana Avenues cut down the mature trees blocking the company’s new sign recently, Tuch says she started hearing “a lot of outrage from the community.”
The trees that were cut included a “treasured tree,” designated by Asheville Greenworks, a local nonprofit whose volunteers work to keep Asheville clean and green. It seems the former tenant at this location — Wachovia Bank — had accepted the informal designation for the 50-foot English oak that fronts Patton some years ago. But being a “treasured tree” does not convey permanent protection, says Tuch; rather, since it’s a voluntary designation, Wells Fargo was not compelled to recognize the tree’s status when it took over the property.
By city ordinances that spell out the minimum number of trees commercial properties must maintain, the oak, along with some mature cherry trees Asheville Greenworks had planted years ago, was supposed to remain in place, according to Tuch. Her office prepared a notice of violation, complete with a $2,900 fine — only to discover that another city office was close to issuing a permit to Wells Fargo to remove these same trees. The bank wanted to remove vegetation located in the North Carolina Department of Transportation right-of-way along Patton, and it found an ally in the state agency because the trees were growing into DOT’s traffic signal wires.
“The permit to remove and replace the trees was close to approval, pending some additional information that was needed.,” Tuch says. “But the contractor went ahead and removed the trees — before they had received their permit.” Yet in the face of DOT involvement, according to Tuch, the city revoked the violation and fee against Wells Fargo.
Tuch acknowledges that trees are in limited supply on Patton Avenue. “The requirement is that you provide one tree for every 40 linear feet of frontage, unless you have obstructions like overhead power lines, and then it’s a small tree every 30 feet; but we allow them to space those trees irregularly” to accommodate signs and similar obstructions. “No doubt about it,” Tuch says, “people prune and remove trees because they think they’re obstructing their signs and their buildings, so I would not be surprised if that was the case here.” Plus, she says, the city has “limited control over what happens in the DOT rights-of-way.”
Susan Roderick, director of Asheville Greenworks, says this incident has called attention to the need to reinvigorate the Treasured Trees program.
“I always enjoyed seeing that tree,” Roderick says. “I guess I just sort of took it for granted.” As for Wells Fargo, “They’re not concerned about trees,” says Roderick. “They’re concerned about everyone seeing their sign.” Wells Fargo did not return calls for comment.
Roderick says she’s talking with the Tree Commission now about how to carry the Treasured Tree designation forward, even when properties change hands; there’s also a nascent idea to map the special trees in the Asheville community, targeting those cared for by the city arborist. Roderick says the goal would be to develop a tree inventory, to which local experts and citizens could contribute and help carry such information forward indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Roderick mourns: “I wish the city sign ordinance didn’t allow such big signs.”