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In Reversal, Downtown Covington Trees will Come Down

More than a month after having its request rejected by a city board and then the city commission, the Point/ARC, a downtown Covington-based agency specializing in assistance for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will be able to move forward with its plans to remove three tall trees from in front of its building.

The reversal came after the Point reapplied for permission to remove just one tree, amending its request as one that suggested the tree was damaging its historic building on the northwest corner of Pike and Washington streets. In order to maintain uniformity, the city's urban design review board gave the OK for the Point to go ahead and take down all three.

The Point plans to plant three new trees in their place. 

The City of Covington responded to questions about the matter from The River City News with answers from city spokesperson Dan Hassert and city attorney Michael Bartlett.

"The new request was different in that the Point was basing its request on damage it said one of the trees was causing to its property, in this case the tree’s roots had apparently pushed up the sidewalk, directing water toward the building and causing water-related issues," the city said.

The city noted that at this month's meeting of the UDRB, two other requests to remove trees that were damaging properties received permission to proceed.

"A strict reading of the historic guidelines precludes removal of trees unless they are dead, diseased or dying, but the city’s solicitor, Michael Bartlett, testified that the spirit of the guidelines is met in instances when – although the trees themselves may be healthy – they are causing property damage that leaves property owners no choice but to remove them."

For the Point, the UDRB's decision was unanimous.

In an earlier request, the Point sought to remove the trees for aesthetic purposes as it moves to construct a more than $2 million new building on Washington Street. The request was denied by the city's urban forestry board with support from the city's staff urban forester. But that decision was appealed to the city commission which overturned the forestry board by a vote of 3-2. Mayor Joe Meyer joined Commissioners Michelle Williams and Denny Bowman in reversing the board's decision. Meyer's son, Chris Meyer, an architect with Covington-based Hub and Weber, is working on the Point's new building.

Because the trees are in an historic preservation overlay zone, the issue also had to come before the UDRB which denied the request to remove the trees. Again, the Point appealed to the city commission. This time, only Bowman voted in support of the Point's position with Williams voting alongside Commissioners Tim Downing and Shannon Smith in upholding the UDRB. The 3-1 vote to deny was cast without Mayor Meyer who was out of town at that time.

But the reworking of the Point's application to remove one tree resulted in the organization's original goal, to remove all three. 

"It’s been a long journey, lots of time and effort from everyone, and an approval and ending we had hoped would have happened seven months ago," said Judi Gerding, president and founder of the Point/ARC, in a statement to RCN. "We can’t change yesterday; we can only proceed today. Our appreciation to those who supported the human and right thing to do."

The city's urban forestry ordinance is set to be under review, the city said in its response to RCN's questions. The city commission will vote on its list of priorities relevant to policy development and revisions for the current fiscal year, and the tree ordinance is part of that.

"Recognizing the significant benefits of trees in the public realm, there is no question that the city spends significant funds to maintain its urban streetscape and, coincidentally, is locked in an ongoing behind-the-scenes legal discussion with Duke (Energy) regarding how trees in the right of way are trimmed," the city said. "But, as the Point/ARC and other applications to the UDRB related to trees for some time have made readily apparent, the city’s treatment of trees through its ordinances, boards, and commissions is not uniform, clear, or consistent. Rather, trees are addressed in numerous areas, including zoning, historic preservation, and urban forestry. Those are often difficult to reconcile."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher