On May 7, 2018, Charlottesville City Council spent ten minutes discussing three trees.

The question was whether to designate the trees as either specimen or heritage trees, which cannot be intentionally destroyed unless authorized by city council. These three trees were nominated as unique or unusual by the Tree Commission as well as private citizens, including Venable elementary students.

The city’s urban forester, Mike Ronayne, expressed reservations about the health of the third of three trees, which is located in Emancipation Park.

“As an arborist, the more you look at it, the more defects you can find,” Ronayne said.

In his report to City Council, Ronayne listed large cavities in the trunk, base, and major limbs, as well as decay around major roots, as reasons for his reservations.

One person, Rebecca Quinn, spoke during public comments. Quinn spoke fondly of the shumard oak but worried that the basswood might interfere with the city’s redesign of downtown parks.

“Not that I want trees to come down, but in the grander scheme of planning for that park, we don’t want a moderate quality tree to interfere with our possible thinking,” Quinn said.

City Councilors Heather Hill and Kathy Galvin clarified with Ronayne that City Council has the power to remove the tree in the future.

“If all the sudden we see this as being a public safety issue, that this tree does not have a future, we could take it down,” Hill said.

Ronayne confirmed that this was the case.

“We can decide in the wake of the design process of the park that if this needs to go and it is a marginal tree, that would have to be an amendment to this ordinance,” Galvin added.

City Council adopted an ordinance to protect all three trees. If the city receives negative feedback about the decision, there will be a second reading of the ordinance. Otherwise, City Council will approve the ordinance in an upcoming consent agenda.

Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Collectbritain, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.