WESTMINSTER - In the fight to maintain the city's charm, disputes persist over exactly how many trees can be saved during reconstruction of East Main Street.
The project, a joint venture between the city and the state, will widen Main Street from Washington Road to Longwell Avenue and upgrade the utility lines.
Current plans call for destroying the 43 existing trees and replacing them with about 90 new ones, each 12 to 15 feet high.
Citizen complaints, however, have prompted city officials to investigate saving some of the larger trees.
Joseph R. Barley, chairman of the city's Tree Commission, reported to the City Council Monday night that nine trees along the route should be protected.
"We tried to strike a balance between Westminster as it changes and grows and the historic district that has a positive impact on the character of this city," he said.
Barley recommended saving the two oaks in front of Cockey's Tavern, the basswood in front of the Shellman House, the two honey locusts at 135 and 141 E. Main St. and the two Callery pears at the Opera House.
A Norway maple at 202 E. Main and a zelkova at 133 E. Main should be relocated, Barley said.
"We kept going back to the large ones," he said. "The problem is that they won't be the same tree when the project is done."
But Rebecca Orenstein, head of the community group Tree Action, said that Dan Turner of the State Highway Administration's Landscape Architecture Division told her the city could save even more.
"(Turner) said he only found three trees that could not be saved," she said. "He said your City Council is getting ready to mess up your town."
Orenstein also said the council should have a public hearing before it's too late to incorporate citizen comments into the plan.
"(Turner) recommended that you listen to the people," she said. "He said the sycamores, which are liked by the community, can be retained. He said they could be there when the people making these decisions are pushing up daisies."
However, Turner said Orenstein misunderstood him.
"All I said was that I evaluated the trees and found all but three of them to be in good to excellent condition," Turner said, adding that he does not know how utility changes will affect the trees.
Barley's report determined that 25 of the trees were in fair to good condition and the rest were not worth saving.
Turner also said he feels the state will follow the city's wishes about the trees.
Citizens at the council meeting also raised concerns about the placement of the new trees.
"I have planted four trees in front of my building," said James Billingslea, owner of Billingslea Real Estate at 187 E. Main. "If it's not in the plan, can I still put a tree there?"
Barley said trees will be placed where they interact best with utility lines and buildings. Property owners should be able to replant trees if they do not conflict with driver sight lines, he said.
Billingslea also said citizens are concerned about plans to move all the poles to the north side of the street, since many offices on that side already receive utility service from the back.
John Donofrio said more research is necessary, since making Main Street one way has again been proposed.
"One way is coming, my friend," he said. "Don't ever say it's never going to happen."
Orenstein said Tree Action will be meeting with Turner, Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, and other concerned citizens at the end of the month.