4th St. reconstruction: no more trees between Division and Washington?

There’s a semi-secret open house today, 6 pm at City Hall (see mtg PDF) on the big 4th Street East reconstruction project (see the Division to Nevada corridor map PDF).

green trees on 4th St green trees on 4th St green trees on 4th St
I was surprised that the recommendation is to remove the eleven trees currently growing on both sides of 4th St. between Division and Washington and instead of planting new trees, replace them with hanging baskets and planters (PDF).

The 4-page concept PDF shows ‘existing photos’ of the trees on page 3 but they show the trees in winter time, not exactly a fair visual representation of what would be lost. So I dug up some 4th St. photos from my archives.

It seems to me that eleven trees make for a lot of greenery that can’t be made up by hanging baskets and pots.

See the Sat. Nfld News: Council to vote on Fourth Street plans.

Brian Hilgardner, an engineer with Bolton & Menk Engineers & Surveyors working on the project, said arborists evaluated the street and recommended removing several. He said some trees were in poor health and said the lack of space both below the surface and against the buildings didn’t allow for proper growth. Because of the buildings, the trees weren’t getting adequate light.


  1. Robert Palmquist said:

    I do like those trees — hope they can be saved.

    March 15, 2010
  2. Tracy Davis said:

    And as I replied with sympathy to Griff’s angst-ridden comment here, the City should ensure that every email notification/distribution list that it creates should automatically include every public official and the media outlets in town so that communications like this don’t keep falling through the cracks. It’s not acceptable.

    March 15, 2010
  3. John S. Thomas said:

    Locally grown is a media outlet?

    I am a private citizen, that lives clear across town, and I knew of the meeting last week. It was in the paper.

    Since the Northfield news is designated the “paper of record”, and it was published there last week, I think they met the requirement.

    Here is the link, and the information is toward the bottom. March 12th.


    March 15, 2010
  4. Patrick Enders said:

    I think I got a mailing announcing this meeting; it was also announced in the newspaper that arrived at my door.

    Archaic, I know – but pretty effective.

    On the high-tech front, the tree situation was discussed fairly extensively at a recent council meeting, and that discussion was streamed via KYMN. You might want to go back and check the archive for the discussion of the whys and wherefores.

    March 15, 2010
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    I found the staff info about trees and planters, etc. on p. 27 of the March 2 Council packet:

    ITEM: Items related to the reconstruction of 4th Street and adjacent blocks


    Proposed Motion For Consideration: ____________Motion ___________Second

    The City Council of the City of Northfield hereby directs staff to move forward with Streetscape Option____ from Division Street to Washington Street in completing the design for 2009 Improvement Project No. 005 – 4th Street Reconstruction.

    Option 1 – Small planters along 4th Street curbline, provision for hanging baskets on decorative light poles, no bump-outs or large-scale planters.

    Option 2 – Small planters along 4th Street curbline, provisions for hanging baskets on decorative light poles, flush bump-outs with large-scale planters, style A, to accommodate ornamental tree.


    The City Council is being asked to provide direction to staff in light of input received from various commissions and groups. Staff has been working with the Streetscape Task Force in completing the 4th Street Reconstruction design. Originally the intent was to continue to use the elements identified in the Downtown Streetscape Plan adopted by council in May 2006. During the design process a number of physical constraints were encountered, as detailed below, that made the use of these elements not practible. Staff worked with the Task Force to explore other options to accomplish the overall intent of the Streetscape Plan.

    The consensus reached by the Task Force was presented to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) since about half of the block lies within the Historic Preservation District. The HPC voted on a plan that removed some of the elements recommended by the Task Force. The elements in question are of a permanent nature that impact how the design is completed. Staff if seeking direction on these elements so the final design can be completed and construction documents prepared for bidding. It should be noted that the HPC reviews and votes on projects within the historic district. Their decisions within this district are final unless overturned by the council.


    4th Street from Division Street to Washington Street was identified as part of the 2010 road reconstruction project. Due to the location of this block within the downtown area, a number of elements from the Downtown Streetscape Plan were intended to be incorporated into the design as detailed in the Downtown Streetscape Plan. As initial information was received from the project that included the topographic survey and soil borings, constraints with the use of the elements were identified.

    1. The existing street cross section accommodates the sidewalks, diagonal parking spaces and travel lanes. To maintain the amount of parking, change to the street cross section was not recommended. The survey showed that the width of the sidewalk ranges from 8.5 – 9.5 feet. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that at least a 5’ clear zone be maintained for pedestrians. The tree planters used on 5th Street require a 5’ width plus space for car overhang. To accommodate the tree planter elements, as used in the 5th Street project, a sidewalk with a minimum width of 11.5-12’ is needed. Since the space is not available alternative methods were considered.

    2. Options to provide a vegetative element along the sidewalk were considered. In ground tree plantings were not seen as favorable for two reasons; soil borings showed that bedrock is within 4 feet of the surface not allowing adequate growth for any type of boulevard tree (as evident by the stunted growth of the existing trees) and any type of tree planted in the sidewalk would be within 5.5-6 feet of a building face not allowing enough space for spread of the tree’s canopy leading to misshaped trees.

    The HPC memo is on p. 33:

    TO: Northfield City Council
    FROM: Mary Titus, member Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC)
    RE: HPC Meeting on February 18, 2010

    The majority of this evening’s meeting was taken up with discussion of a planters/pavement design proposed for 4th Street E between Washington and Division by the Northfield downtown streetscape task force. Because this block is within the Historic District, HPC approval is necessary for significant streetscape changes. The City Engineer presented to HPC drawings of the street, identifying the location of the proposed planters and the brick paving inlays that would create visual bump-outs on which the planters could be placed during warmer months. These planters would be very large, sufficient to hold a small tree with ornamental under planting. They would provide an alternative to actual trees, which have not fared well on this block because of bedrock and shading. The City Engineer also provided images of possible planters in varying sizes and styles. She also reported the suggestion that each year, before winter when street plowing occurs, the planters could be moved by forklift to Bridge Square.

    After extensive discussion, the HPC unanimously voted against this streetscape proposal. Foremost among reasons for this opposition were the following: such large scale planters have no historical precedents; they are oversized for such a location, and pose potential traffic hazards; they would appear only in this block of the downtown, and hence are more anomalous than integral to streetscape design; their annual relocation to Bridge Square would give the Square an awkward appearance each winter and would likely damage its topsoil each spring.

    Although HPC opposed this particular proposal for the downtown historic district streetscape, members of the commission repeatedly expressed their support for smaller planters, and for the presence of flowers and greenery throughout the downtown.

    The HPC also discussed and then proposed paint colors for window trim and plywood inserts on the upper windows at 508 Division Street South. The Commission as a whole regretted that the owners of this building are unable at present to put in correctly sized, historically accurate, and more attractive windows to replace the small modern windows and plywood sheets that currently fill the large arched openings on this historic building.

    March 16, 2010
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    As for Council action from March 2, I’ve only been able to find this blurb on the right sidebar of the 4th St. Project Page:

    Mar. 2, 2010 – City Council simplfies Division-Washington St. streetscape plan to remove on-street bump-outs and planters. Small planters on sidewalk and decorative streetlights will remain.

    March 16, 2010
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m not opposed to cutting down the trees.

    But as seen in my photos, these trees provided considerable shade for 30 years. They may be struggling now but wasn’t 30 years of shade worth it? Is it unreasonable to say “Well, let’s plant some trees, knowing that we can only expect to get 30 years of service from them”?

    And are there really no boulevard trees that could do reasonably well (not perfect, just good enough like these ash trees) given the soil constraints and proximity to buildings?

    March 16, 2010
  8. Patrick Enders said:

    I do agree that scrawny trees are generally preferable to no trees, or to planters.

    March 16, 2010
  9. Joe Gransee-Bowman said:

    Being a new guy in town, it may be going against the decisions made to date. So here goes without being aware of the history of the downtown planning. The debate over a handful of trees seems to be at the root of something bigger.

    The presence of trees appears to be part of the question of how to improve the quality of the experience in the downtown area. Has the overall experience been evaluated and considered for redesign to meet the needs of the prosperity of downtown businesses, as well as connectivity to the downtown and river area for people to access a place that attracts activity and overall effectiveness of the space usage, not just the efficiency of parking vehicles?

    There are trees that can handle the conditions of the site. The question is whether or not the site is being utilized effectively to generate activity downtown, which is a can of worms to spring loose.

    Does the downtown serve people or their cars? Would more tree-shaded people space along the couple of blocks of downtown serve to increase economic activity, knowing that parking would have to be increased adjacent to that area, but not necessarily right in the middle of it?

    The presence of tree shade on a sloping street may or not attract people, but the overall connectivity of the space, access to the businesses and parking might be worth considering. Would there be a benefit in determining if the downtown traffic pattern was evaluated to be changed? Would long term economic prosperity continue if the downtown were redesigned to have a shaded pedestrian mall, filled with people, local artwork, farmers’ market and other artisan vendors, as well as occassional live performances. Are there other cities who have adapted their downtown to be more people centered and successfully increased prosperity and activity with tree shaded malls? Keeping in mind our climate conditions over the year, how could we do it here?

    Last year, when the downtown was closed down to traffic and stores brought their products out in the street and people could move freely without traffic, there seemed to be a lot of healthy activity for a downtown. Add in the other downtown events that bring people to the area, and there has been a lot of indicators that show people have been coming with interest in what is going on. Could that be sustained over the sunny seasons enough to merrit a downtown overhaul, dunno, but what has been happening downtown when people are empowered by safe and exciting activity seems to show that it might be worth digging into a little deeper. And while we’re at it, let’s make sure we plan for the trees that are productive for more than just shading, and not wedge them into concrete bunkers.

    March 16, 2010
  10. Kiffi Summa said:

    Joe: Anyone who is new to town, and cares to reply in this thoughtful, in depth manner…. Please, Please… apply for a Board or Commission of your choice!
    There’s lots of work to be done by citizen volunteers on the city’s Boards and Commissions, and sounds like you’d be a great contributor.

    Go for it!

    March 16, 2010
  11. Joe, thank you for your very welcome “big picture” perspective. I think you’re right that the trees are symbolic of bigger and more difficult to solve issues than just whether or not there are trees on a single block of downtown. It sounds like the issue will come back before the Council, so you may have more opportunity to help us arrive at a good solution.
    .-= (Betsey Buckheit is a blogger. See a recent post titled Council goals) =-.

    March 16, 2010
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m at the Council meeting tonight, hoping to speak to this issue before I fall asleep.

    I spoke with Leif Knecht late this afternoon as to whether there might be a type of tree that could work in this type of challenging environment. He said there’s a new variety of Honey Locust soon available called a “Street Keeper” that’s suitable, as well as other trees like certain varieties of Ginkgos.

    I found a reference to it here:



    Street Keeper Locust

    Zone: 4 Height: 15m Spread: 7m

    Foliage: Green Fall Foliage: Yellow

    Ideal street tree with its narrow, upright shape. Tolerates urban conditions well.

    March 16, 2010
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Leif also suggested that if cost of trees is an issue in this challenging fiscal environment, their purchase and planting could be delayed a year or two until the City is in better shape. Or buy really small ones.

    But for the reconstruction, prepare both sides of the street as if we will be planting a dozen or more trees.

    March 16, 2010
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    Good news: sidewalk trees are back in the plan. I’ll post details in the morning.

    March 16, 2010
  15. Patrick Enders said:

    We have a very smart Council.

    March 17, 2010
  16. kiffi summa said:

    As of today, the 4th street project is getting one of its finishing touches, the trees between Division and Washington streets.
    After all the controversy about these trees, and councilors having widely divergent views, the value of having trees put back will be apparent, IMO, with this planting.

    First of all, the selection of the actual trees could not be better; they are a very substantial size for an initial planting of that number, and they are so perfectly matched in size and shape that they will be be a great addition to the ‘architecture’ of that streetscape.

    Huge congrats to whoever selected this specific group of trees, and to the councilors who supported their planting, above the ongoing objections of councilors who could not see the value of “Plant it now; it’ll be growin’ while you’re sleepin’!”

    November 4, 2010

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