Asheville residents are passionate about their trees.
So when a contractor cut down the mature trees blocking Wells Fargo’s new sign on Patton Avenue in West Asheville,
, the city’s assistant planning director, says she heard “a lot of outrage from the community.”
The felled trees included a 50-foot English oak that had been designated a “treasured tree” by Asheville GreenWorks. But the nonprofit’s Treasured Trees Program is strictly an educational effort, and the designation affords no permanent protection, Tuch explains. Wells Fargo was not compelled to recognize the tree’s special status when it took over the former Wachovia Bank property.
Still, city ordinances do spell out the minimum number of trees commercial properties must maintain, and the oak was supposed to remain in place, along with some cherry trees Asheville Greenworks had planted years ago. So Tuch’s office prepared a notice of violation that came with a $2,900 fine — only to discover that another city office was about to issue Wells Fargo a permit to remove the trees. The bank wanted to remove vegetation in the state Department of Transportation’s right of way along Patton, in part because the trees were growing into the DOT’s traffic-signal wires.
“The contractor went ahead and removed the trees — before they had received their permit,” Tuch reports. Nonetheless, the city revoked the violation and fee.
Trees are in limited supply on Patton Avenue, she admits. “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,” continues Tuch, “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 right of way.”
says the incident has underscored the need to reinvigorate the Treasured Trees Program.
“I always enjoyed seeing that tree,” she says wistfully. “I guess I just sort of took it for granted.”
Roderick says she’s consulting with the Tree Commission on how to ensure that the “treasured tree” designation is respected when properties change hands; there's also talk of mapping Asheville’s special trees, starting with those cared for by the city’s staff arborist. The goal, she notes, would be to develop a tree inventory.
Meanwhile, says Roderick, “I wish the city sign ordinance didn’t allow such big signs.”
At press time, Wells Fargo had not returned calls about the incident.