Garden Club of Carman member Lorraine Stevenson and Carman & Community Chamber of Commerce director Scott Johnston spoke on behalf of the 16 trees slated for removal in Carman’s downtown area at a Town of Carman committee meeting on Tuesday, July 11. Both delegations urged council to reconsider their decision and find a way to accommodate both the trees and the safety of smoother sidewalks. (EMILY DISTEFANO/VALLEY LEADER)
Carman’s downtown has become much more colourful lately. The district’s tree trunks are now decked out with rainbow-hued ribbons, small signs and children’s drawings as residents show their support for saving the 16 ash trees slated for removal by the Town of Carman council as part of the 1st Street SW sidewalk replacement.
The peaceful protest is just one way people are getting involved in the fight to save what they see as an important part of Carman’s cultural, environmental and aesthetic landscape. On Tuesday morning, around 40 residents showed up at the Town of Carman’s 7:00 a.m. committee meeting to hear two delegations present their case for keeping the trees.
Lorraine Stevenson, a member of the Garden Club of Carman and an advocate for preserving the town’s greenery, spoke on behalf the Garden Club of Carman.
“Our garden club feels that the centre of town, the civic part of the community, defines Carman,” she said afterward. “Carman is a community that very much values trees and hotriculture and takes enormous pride in both its private and public properties. So what we hope council has heard is that their vision...differs very much from what the community’s vision of it is.”
In her speech to council, Stevenson said the trees speak to the heart of what Carman is and the decision at hand is a defining one for the community.
Removing the trees, she said, would leave the downtown area looking and feeling hollow.
And while she said the club members agree that the walkways need maintenance, they believe there must be alternative designs that could incorporate both sidewalks and trees.
“Why do we have to choose between trees and smooth sidewalks,” she asked.
Besides the visual appeal of the trees, Stevenson noted many benefits of the greenery, including shade and cooler air during the summer as well as better air quality.
Business community speaks out
Also speaking on Tuesday morning was Scott Johnston, a director of the Carman and Community Chamber of Commerce.
Johnston noted that everyone at the meeting was there for the same reason - a love of the community and a belief that it is a great place to live and work. Speaking on behalf of the business owners who make up the Chamber’s membership, he asked for a change in plans.
“I think if we don’t revisit this issue and we cut the trees down, we’re going to regret it,” he told council. “If anything our position is we need more trees downtown, not less.”
He said the trees are responsible for providing a warm, inviting and welcoming atmosphere in Carman.
“We want to work closely with the council,” Johnston reiterated in an interview after the meeting. “We think Carman is a great place to live and to do business and we just ask council to revisit their decision and change their decision to keep the trees. I think we all agree that the trees add a beauty and a softness to our downtown and we don’t want to lose that.”
The local Chamber of Commerce was first approached by the Carman Garden Club for its opinion as the voice of the local business district. Johnston said the group sent emails out to Chamber members and talked to business owners informally, and the consensus was clear.
“The business owners that have contacted the Chamber were unanimous: they all wanted the trees to be saved,” Johnston said. “I’m sure there are people who don’t want the trees, but none of them contacted the Chamber.”
He said he hopes to see solutions that take into account the importance of the trees and the safety of the sidewalks.
“If other communities can have a beautiful downtown with trees and sidewalks and find solutions that work, then so should Carman,” he said. “And if it means we have to take up six feet or eight feet of sidewalk every ten years and there’s a cost to that I think we all agree that that’s money well spent.”
Johnston also expressed disappointment in the municipality’s decision to go ahead with this plan without asking the Chamber for feedback first.
“It would have been nice if council had asked the Chamber for its opinion six months ago” he said. “Then we could have talked to an arborist and formally talked to all of our members who are affected on 1st Street and Highway 13. That didn’t happen, but hopefully next time an issue like this comes up they will ask the Chamber in a timely fashion.”
A different vision for the area
For Stevenson and the Garden Club of Carman, this issue starts with the trees but doesn’t end there.
She said the group would love the chance to work with the municipality on beautification plans.
“This is an interesting space,” she said of the downtown area. “There’s a lot of room for pedestrian traffic here, and there are a lot of us who are getting a bit older and we see this space being more used for meeting and greeting and visiting and more park benches would be of great value to this part of downtown. We love [the town’s] proposal for decorative lighting and decorative lighting isn’t just pretty, it’s practical.”
She noted that the current light standards are very high up, and that lower installations would bring the light down to the sidewalk.
“Decorative lights, park benches, community billboards, bike racks for children to be able to put their bikes and for adults to encourage more cycling down here...we just think we should be turning our civic centre into a much more beautiful and much more inviting space, and we think that starts with keeping the trees standing,” she said.
And they absolutely want to work with the town council on this.
“We would be delighted to be asked,” Stevenson said.
The Carman mayor and councillors were planning to discuss the tree removal plans further at their council meeting today, Thursday July 13 at 7:30 a.m.
“We’re going to talk about it on Thursday,” said Councillor Jane Swanton after the Tuesday meeting. “Both parties made very good presentations and we will certainly take all of that into consideration. It’s not things that we did not consider before...and we are going to discuss it again, take another look at it. We’re going to have to weigh and measure and see exactly how we move forward.”
Mayor Bob Mitchell said, however, that their final decision will rest on safety and safety alone.
“Ultimately, the safety is primary,” he said. “And that’s unfortunate for some. At this stage of the game we’re not prepared to not change sidewalks just for the sake of someone who likes looking at sidewalks when someone else trips and falls and hurts themselves.”