About three dozen holly trees on Main Street in downtown Clayton wear a pink ribbon. It’s not for decoration.
Instead, the ribbons denote which trees the town’s planning department has offered up for removal.
Planning director David DeYoung said his office is responding to complaints from business owners who say trees are blocking their signs. Other trees, DeYoung said, are busting up sidewalk and growing into utility lines.
Two weeks ago, planning department employees went out and marked the offending trees, a sizeable chunk of the downtown tree population, and the town council is likely to weigh in during its meeting Monday night.
“Some of the trees are having a detrimental effect on the business environment downtown,” DeYoung said. “If you go up and down Main Street, you’ll see that not all street locations are created equal.”
DeYoung said that, in his opinion, many of the trees were improperly planted, leading to broken and uneven sidewalks and some trees growing into overhead power lines.
He said the trees also limit space for outdoor restaurant seating and create challenges for certain businesses to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
DeYoung argues the trees were a good idea but that they’ve overgrown their value. The Clayton that planted the trees is different than the one existing today, DeYoung said, noting the town has also seen a shift in the types of businesses locating downtown.
“As a planner, I understand the value of trees,” DeYoung said. “I work hard to earn the Tree City USA designation every year. But trees need to be placed correctly. ... Sometimes when we plan we make mistakes and we have to go back and make corrections in order to move forward. (Clayton) planted the trees without full consideration of how they would impact future businesses. And they were planted back when we were definitely a different downtown than we are now.”
DeYoung thinks the trees were planted in the early 2000s, before he came on as planning director five years ago. He said removing the offending trees would make way for future streetscape work, such as landscaping and sidewalk improvements, which the town is considering this year.
The reaction from downtown businesses is fairly mixed, with shopkeepers who want to keep the trees outnumbering those who want to see them go.
Paul Black of the Wagner House doesn’t have to worry about his business being hard to find, but he said the trees cause other problems.
“Holly is a fine tree, but the problem we’ve had is it drops its berries,” Black said. “When people walk on those berries, it creates a mess, and they bring it up on my porch. It’s constantly requiring our attention. ... Personally I’m happy to see them go.”
Jerry Gubitosi of Brick & Mortar said his catering and events business doesn’t have to worry much about foot traffic, but it does help to be seen. The trees, he said, make that hard.
“If they’re driving through town and are looking for a caterer, they wouldn’t know we’re here,” Gubitosi said. “Visibility wise, it’s restricting.”
Others think Clayton’s downtown would look strangely bare without the trees. Shannon Woodall of Hair on Main said Benson, where she lives, similarly planted trees in the name of beautification, only to cut them down later.
“I like trees, so I’d rather see them than take them out,” Woodall said.
Molly Parrish of Studio Bleu, another downtown hair salon, said she could see it both ways.
“It doesn’t bother me; I don’t think it will have much of an effect either way,” Parrish said. “I could see the trees being in the way, but we don’t have a tree directly in front of us.”
Charles Treadway of Sugar Rose Boutique worries that taking out the trees will drive up energy costs for downtown businesses. He said it happened to him some two years ago when trees outside his shop were removed, spiking his power bill more as the air conditioning struggled against the sunlight coming in through the front window. Removing the trees, he said, could set off a dangerous chain reaction.
“It could start a domino effect,” Treadway said. “If you take the trees down, energy costs go up, which in turn causes owners to pay more in utilities. Maybe they decide not to renew their lease, and then the landlord can’t rent it out. With nobody in the space, the landlord won’t do any repairs, causing the building to depreciate, driving down property values and tax revenues. It’s a chain reaction; I’m against it.”
The town council was scheduled to debate the future of downtown trees at its meeting on June 20.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson