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Bremerton takes on talk about Fourth Street trees

Bremerton city officials are debating whether to remove trees on Fourth Street. - Kevan Moore
Bremerton city officials are debating whether to remove trees on Fourth Street.
— image credit: Kevan Moore

About 40 people packed Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent’s sixth-floor conference room last week to talk about the possibility of removing trees on Fourth Street between Pacific and Washington avenues.

The notion of removing the trees and replacing them with smaller trees was prompted by complaints to the city’s Public Works Department. Concerns about root damage to the sidewalks, which can create tripping hazards, the towering height of the trees and the year-round shedding of foliage littering the street were all cited as concerns.

The meeting in the mayor’s office, in which there was plenty of opposition to removing the trees as well as support for replacing them, was a far cry from a year ago when Public Works last cut down trees on Fourth Street.

Just about a year ago to the day, City of Bremerton street crews cut down 30 globe locust trees along Fourth Street between Naval and Warren. The crews left the bases of the trees in place, but eventually cut down the trunks to street level several weeks later.

Timothy Finch, who lives in the 1400 block of Fourth Street, was disappointed by the tree removal at the time.

“It’s a shame to see them taking away the trees,” Finch said. “It would have been nice to see them keep them.”

Lent said then that she and outgoing Public Works Director Katy Allen were not briefed about the tree removal prior to them being cut down.

“I can’t give you a reasonable excuse for the removal of all those trees,” Lent said at the time.

This time, though, the mayor and Public Works Director Chal Martin wanted to reach out to residents and business owners before moving forward. Beyond that outreach, though, Martin said it’s only a matter of time before the trees will have to be removed. After missing the first half of last week’s meeting, Martin floated the possibility of removing half of the trees in the coming year and replacing them with smaller, more street friendly trees or shrubs.

Greg Jose, who chairs the city planning commission, said he wasn’t aware of the possibility of tree removal until last week. Like so many others, Jose said he was shocked by the notion of taking out the trees. He works and lives downtown and said that every person he talked to is in favor of keeping the trees, even after being informed that the trees would be replaced.

Jose noted that the city’s comprehensive plan talks about tree retention, protecting and expanding the widespread incorporation of trees and preservation of urban forests. He also cited municipal codes that deal with retaining significant trees and downtown subarea plans that call for pleasant pedestrian experiences and promoting areas of special character

“I mean, what is that block of Fourth Street if not a picturesque little pocket of special urban character?” he said.

Jose, like many others, also noted that Bremerton has been has been part of Tree City USA for 17 years.

“What kind of Tree City USA takes out beautiful trees like that? Every single picture of what we want our city to look like has trees in it. And not just skinny little trees. They’re big, voluminous trees that provide shade and cool the neighborhood. Of course, many cities are struggling to recover the tree canopy that they’ve lost over decades and decades of urbanization.”

Jose said that the stretch of Fourth Street with all of the trees is “a stark contrast to two blocks down where you’ve got open, empty asphalt lots. What kind of city do you guys want?”

Not everyone that attended the meeting agreed with Jose, though.

Longtime commercial Realtor Victor Ulsh said that he has watched the trees on  Fourth Street grow and grow over the years to the point that that stretch of street resembles a jungle.

He said that feedback from potential tenets on the street has been quick and consistently negative over the years.

Despite loving trees, Ulsh said, “Those are the wrong trees, in the wrong place in the wrong scale.

“It’s not a coincidence that is the most vacant block in downtown Bremerton … Those trees are clogging the economic life out of that street.”

Carol Atkinson said she has worked on 4th Street for 25 years and thinks the trees should go.

“I don’t think it’s trees we’re talking about, it’s those specific trees that are an absolute mess all the time,” she said.

Lou Weir said he’s owned vacant buildings on the block for decades and that the trees, the economy and one-way configuration of the street have all conspired against making business viable there.

Weir argued against creating a Local Improvement District 20 years ago that brought the trees and street reconfiguration to bear.

A plaque on Fourth Street marking the 1993 improvements states, “We believe that city streets can be made wonderful places for people.

Therefore, this block of Fourth Street was designed for strolling, shopping and enjoying a latte outside with friends.

The improvements you see were conceived and constructed by Fourth Street property owners between Pacific and Washington avenues …

This project is another step in Bremerton’s commitment to be a better city for those who follow.”

 

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