Dover replacing some trees with more infrastructure-friendly options

A Wesley College students walks near a buckled sidewalk on Governors Avenue in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — To witness the type of character and beauty that trees add to the city of Dover’s personality, one just needs to drive down either State Street or Governors Avenue in mid-October. The explosion of color emanating from autumn leaves before they fall to the ground is breathtaking.

City Manager Donna Mitchell said she understands how important trees are to Dover and how much they add to its historic feel.

That’s why she and city staff are looking for solutions to some issues that have resulted in some trees cut down in the downtown area over recent months.

Starting Monday, a month ahead of the city’s annual Spring Clean Up event, Dover began a large-widespread initiative to help “clean up” residential and business properties in the city, which includes looking at some trees that are damaging to the city’s infrastructure, namely dangerous, buckled sidewalks and covered streetlights.

“I can’t tell you how many trees we’ve taken down so far, but we’re looking at assessing all of them,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “If a tree is causing the sidewalk conditions the way they are, we’re looking to take the tree down and replace it with another tree. But with a tree that the root ball doesn’t come up and tear up the sidewalk.

“Downtown on Loockerman Street, we’re looking at some of those trees that possibly need to come down because of the (interference with the) lighting.”

Another suggestion that Mrs. Mitchell said the city is looking into is to put potted trees downtown in the Loockerman Street corridor like Dover International Speedway does on its NASCAR and Firefly weekends. The trees would still provide shade and beauty but would not interfere with infrastructure.

Dover residents Kathleen M. Doyle and Susan Yost wrote a letter to the Delaware State News recently that concerned the city removing trees and not replacing them.

A bucked sidewalk on North State Street in Dover.

“Sometimes it is necessary to cut down an old tree when it is diseased or posing a danger,” their letter stated. “When a tree must be taken down, or allowed to die due to neglect, new trees need to be planted. Many places have laws that require a minimum of a 1:1 replacement, depending upon the size of the tree that was removed.

“If the city were to follow Kent County’s tree mitigation ordinance, which outlines the rules for developers, each tree in downtown Dover that has been cut down should be replaced by five trees.”

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said he does not agree with chopping down trees and will be fighting against it.

“We should not be taking down trees,” he said. “I’m aware that it’s a safety hazard with the lighting downtown. Other than that, I am not in agreement with taking down the trees. I’ve heard from many people recently who are dismayed at hearing that we’re taking down trees.”

Dover is renowned for its tree coverage and Mayor Robin Christiansen said the city will be named a “Tree City USA” recipient once again this year, which essentially means that it has a viable tree management program.

“This will be our 31st year as a Tree City USA and I would be sad to see (some trees) go, but we need to replace them with trees that don’t have roots in the sidewalks and don’t provide for an accidental situation for folks that might be walking downtown,” Mayor Christiansen said. “I think there’s some happy ground where we can meet.”

City Councilman Tanner Polce also agrees there is some middle ground that needs to be found.

“I think ultimately the success lies in identifying trees that are causing more structural damage than anything else,” Councilman Polce said. “I think there’s a solution to maintain the aesthetics that the trees provide. Mrs. Mitchell has floated the idea of transportable trees in kind of a giant pottery setting and I think that’s a reasonable solution.

“Ultimately, if (some trees are) causing damage to our infrastructure, we should assess and put forth a solution that doesn’t cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long term just to maintain some shade coverage. Then again, I think there is a solution out there that Mrs. Mitchell has identified.”

Ms. Doyle and Ms. Yost’s letter regarding trees lamented the loss of any tree, particularly any that are chopped down and not replaced.

“Planting and taking care of trees is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to address the impact of increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere,” they wrote. “Trees take in carbon dioxide, release oxygen, provide shade, and release moisture through their leaves. The larger the tree and its canopy of leaves, the more benefits it provides.

“The right trees planted in the right places are even able to reduce flooding in flood-prone areas. Trees can lower cooling and heating costs, reduce harmful UV radiation, increase property values, and even reduce crime. Unfortunately, locally, we are losing far more trees than are being planted. In recent months, we have witnessed many instances of tree removal and tree neglect.”

Mrs. Mitchell said the city is not anti-tree. It just needs to try to find a solution regarding some of the trees and the impacts they are having on the city’s infrastructure, particularly some of the large ones that line State Street and Governors Avenue that have massive roots that are buckling the sidewalks.

“As far as a solution to some of the trees giving us problems go, it’s all still in motion,” she said. “We’re still evaluating all our options.”