Are the trees on the square in Thomaston helping or hurting the businesses there, and what can be done to improve the situation? That was the question facing the Thomaston Tree Board at its meeting last Thursday, with factions from both sides present to discuss the issue. While no solution was decided on, all involved are continuing to look for ways to resolve the concern.
The issue first came up at the August 21 meeting of the Thomaston City Council. Lisa Ryals, owner of Split Endz Salon, is planning to move her business to 117 Gordon Street on the square, the former Reems location between English’s Café and Allie David Formal Wear. She came to the council asking them to look at the situation, stating that the crepe myrtle tree in front of the building will block any sign they put up to advertise their new location.
She and her husband, Scott Ryals, had also appeared before the Tree Board in August. The Board agreed to prune the tree to see if it would help. Ryals said it did not, and requested assistance from the City Council, presenting a petition she said had been signed by all the business owners on the square. But Mayor Hays Arnold instructed her to return to the Tree Board, stating the council would need a recommendation from the board before it could take any action.
At the Tree Board meeting last week, Brad Whitmire, an architect with a business on the square, came to provide his support for keeping the trees as they are. Whitmire said he did not know of the petition and would not have signed it if he had.
“I am for keeping the trees like they are,” said Whitmire. “To me, there was a lot of foresight to plant the trees. It takes a long time to get them established. I’m for keeping the trees and actually expanding the tree planting.”
Ryals apologized to Whitmire, stating she had approached one of his tenants on the lower floor of his building without realizing he had an office on the second floor. Her husband Scott restated their case for something needing to be done about the trees.
“We have to advertise our business,” he said. “If anybody can come up with any solution where you can see the front of that building where we can advertise that sign, we’ll do it. We’re not against trees being around town. But the tree was planted in front of that building and is literally as wide as the building and as tall as the building. There is no way to advertise whatsoever, and if I put anything on the windows themselves, if there is a SUV or a truck parked in front of the building, you can’t see the windows. If somebody comes up with an idea, we’re game for anything.”
Former Mainstreet Director Sylvia Winters stated that the trees blocking business signs were also a problem when Mainstreet was in operation.
“We addressed the problem because we had so many complaints, and what we tried to do was to put signs on each corner of downtown to represent what was on that side of the street,” said Winters. “We never could get that accomplished, but that is a way to advertise the businesses without removing the trees.”
Tree Board Chairman Jody Nelson agreed. Nelson said he travels around the state on his job and that the corner signs are one of the solutions he has seen in successful communities.
“Using Fayetteville as an example, on the corner they have nice, decorative signs that have the name of the business and an arrow pointing the way,” said Nelson. “If you got to the corner intersection, it told you every business that was on the street that way. It seems like a pretty simple solution for that issue. I don’t know if that is something we can talk to the City Manager about doing. It may resolve it for more than just this one business.”
But Lisa Ryals stated that she has seen the corner signs in Fayetteville and found them very confusing.
“If you have a list of signs and arrow points, where exactly is that building?,” she asked. “Businesses have been doing signs for hundreds of years. Everybody has a right to put a sign above their store where it can be seen and found from people coming from out of town.”
Ryals suggested the trees be replaced with smaller bushes that would be decorative, but would not block signage.
However, Board member Faye Bridges objected, stating that such plants would not provide shade for visitors like the trees do.
Nelson provided the members of the board with a Tree City USA bulletin that addresses the issue of how to prevent tree/sign conflicts, and suggested that the board have copies of the bulletin sent to all business owners on the square to see if a solution could be agreed upon. A motion to do so was made and approved.
Board member Terry Matthews thanked the Ryals for bringing their concern to the board and said they had done good research and helped them in understanding the problem.
Following the discussion, Board member Martha Brewton said she had been contacted by a person who had read the stories in the newspapers and had started their own petition, getting the names of 62 people who want to keep the trees on the square. Brewton said this was done unsolicited by the Tree Board, and that there are a lot of people who don’t want anything done to the trees.