Moore Square and the “Politics of Trees”

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Moore Square survived a tornado, and its renovation Master Plan survived public scrutiny. Its next hurdle is the “politics of trees.”

The city has been working with the state to do a redesign of Moore Square. Chris Counts won a design competition last year, but the state has final say over all changes.

The city brought in a man touted as one of the nation’s leading tree experts, Jim Urban, to perform a two-part study of Moore Square: a soil survey and a tree inventory. Along with Counts and Jeff Kish of Bartlett Tree Experts, Urban found mostly good soil conditions and identified trees that required further study.

Bringing in Urban was an “extra step” to help move the project forward in a way that satisfies the public, according to city project manager Cassie Schumacher-Georgopoulos. The tree subject is a sensitive one, she said.

[media-credit id=58 align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit] “One of the sayings in my profession is that the politics of trees is much more difficult than the science of trees,” Urban said. “There are so many different political opinions about what the future should be, and it’s sorting out that process that is the challenge for the project.”

Some of the larger, older trees, which are rare to find in a downtown city setting, could pose a public safety risk as they continue to age. The park’s largest tree lost some limbs during last year’s tornado and will require further investigation, according to Urban.

“Our goal is to not take down any old trees,” said Urban. “However, there’s another part of the equation, which is public safety. I think we need to take a more critical look at each of these trees to make sure that we’re not saving a tree that has fairly significant public safety ramifications with major limbs falling out at inappropriate times.”

The city will employ a specialized class of surveyors to investigate problem trees that Urban identified.

Internal staff will perform further investigation as opposed to contracting the work, according to Schumacher-Georgopoulos.

The surveyors can give a statistical chance of a limb falling from a tree, Urban said. If someone were to get hit by a falling limb, the city would have its staff’s due diligence to fight any lawsuits.

Urban must now process the data he gathered in the square and come back to Raleigh from Maryland to share his findings. That presentation should happen sometime in November, Schumacher-Georgopoulos said. City staff will conduct its further investigation in the meantime.

[media-credit id=58 align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]
James Urban and Jeff Kish, arborist at Bartlett Tree Experts, take soil samples from Moore Square.

A final analysis and comprehensive tree strategy is due to City Councilors in January.

Moore Square is state-owned and the project faces a long permitting process.

“There is a plan review with the City of Raleigh, but also a plan review with the State of North Carolina and the State Construction Office,” Schumacher-Georgopoulos said.

The state will have to approve the construction of a restroom facility and a café in the square, which are included in the project’s Master Plan. The city is currently in negotiations with the state about the proposed facilities.

Schumacher-Georgopoulos said the internal hope is that the project will get funding in 2015 and break ground in 2016.


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