Jasper, Tenn., officials are considering removing the trees around the courthouse square downtown because they are damaging the sidewalks and making it difficult to see the signs in front of some businesses. Photo by Ryan Lewis
JASPER, Tenn. — When Jimmy Sneed began renovating the old Vance Furniture building on the city's downtown courthouse square, he didn't realize the trees in front of it would be such a problem.
Sneed told the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently that he'd like to see the trees removed because they are damaging the sidewalk and covering up the front of his business, which will make it hard to see a 15-foot sign that will be installed.
"If you go around the square and look, most of the trees are already doing this," he said. "This tree was grown into the awning that we took off. One of the trees covers up half of the front of the building."
The board voted unanimously to allow Sneed to cut back two trees enough to finish construction on the front of the building, but it is considering more far-reaching action for all the trees around the square.
Since all the trees eventually could damage sidewalks and curbs, city leaders are considering removing them.
Mayor Paul Evans said the trees were dedicated to various people, and he can't find anyone who can prune the Chinese ginkgo trees because they're supposed to be clipped "a certain way."
"We have several trees that are growing into the grating right now," he said.
Sneed said one resident he talked to paid $250 for a memorial plaque that was laid into the sidewalk when the trees were planted.
The city will have "a bigger mess" if it doesn't remove all of the trees, Alderman Steve Looney said, but it would never remove the memorials in the sidewalk.
"Why would they care if we took that tree out, left their plaque like it is, and put a planter there?," he said. "What's the difference in a tree being there or a planter? I just can't see anybody having any objection to it.
"We're looking at tearing the sidewalk up and everything else if we keep these trees," he said.
The "prudent" thing to do would be to gather more information before a decision is made on the trees, City Attorney Mark Raines said.
"Even if these trees were put in with donations, they're still city property," he said. "[The board] can decide what's in the best interest of the city, whether they leave them, prune them, remove them, or replace them with a planter."
Alderman Paul "Mac" Bumpus said board members should take the time to walk around the square to see "exactly what's going on" before the next board meeting July 8.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.