Five mature poplar trees are coming down as part of improvements to a popular sidewalk in Sidney.
Council voted 5-2 Monday, with Couns. Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul opposed, to approve an amended staff recommendation to widen the sidewalk through Tulista Park paralleling Fifth Street but separated by a berm.
Staff said in a report that the sidewalk is not wide enough to accommodate users and does not drain adequately. It also notes that trees along the sidewalk frequently heave the surface, “creating trip hazards and a surface undesirable for some wheeled modes of transportation.”
The sidewalk will be widened to 2.5 metres from 1.5 metres, impacting five trees on the east side of the walkway, with work scheduled to start in the summer.
“Although the existing sidewalk has an iconic feel with mature poplar trees on both sides, these trees are not the most suitable species in this location,” reads the report. The five poplar trees will give to way to five London plane trees, which would be more suitable for several reasons, including their non-intrusive root system, very long lifespan and broader canopy. The remaining poplar trees on the west side of the sidewalk still have a significant lifespan and staff recommends their removal and replacement with London plane trees on an as-needed basis.
Council’s decision comes after the municipality received public criticism for allowing the removal of a historic downtown tree. Council voted 4-3 in March to allow the removal of a tree estimated to be 18 metres tall and several decades old. Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith as well as Couns. Sara Duncan and Peter Wainwright had opposed removal of that tree.
Speaking in favour of widening the sidewalk rather than re-routing it as per the other option, Wainwright said Sidney values trees, but poplar trees are not high on the list of valued trees. He also also noted that the trees will be replaced, a point that the municipality will make in an upcoming release informing the public. The original staff recommendation only spoke of informing about the impending tree removal.
Council also asked staff to consider (without requiring) the planting of additional trees along the east side of the walkway.
Rintoul said he was uncomfortable with removing the five trees and suggested that council explore the option presented by O’Keeffe to move the path onto the berm in light of the possibility that Tulista Park could be the future site of pickleball courts.
The approved budget for the entire project is $200,000.
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