The city of Kent’s policy to replace trees removed during street projects won’t apply to recent construction completed along Central Avenue South and East James Street.
There are exceptions to the rule and each street has reasons for not replacing the trees, said City Public Works Director Tim LaPorte during an interview.
For starters, roots from the large trees that lined both streets tore up sidewalks.
“The trees that were planted there in the late 60s or early 70s were beautiful trees,” LaPorte said. “I believe they were sweet gums, a gorgeous tree but as arborists say a beautiful tree but wrong location because they need space to grow.
“It was a major mistake the city made 40 or 50 years ago. They planted a lot of beautiful trees but a lot has been learned since then about urban forestry. There is no way we would ever plant that kind of tree today. They started to crack the sidewalks.”
City officials initially announced plans last year to replace trees along Central Avenue South and East James Street until city staff and consultants decided neither street had room for new trees.
“We have used up every inch,” LaPorte said about a lack of space for trees along Central Avenue South. “It started as a two-lane road, then to three and then to five lanes with utilities with no room for landscaping.”
The city a couple of years ago installed underground piping along the east side Central Avenue to pump overflow Mill Creek water from James Street to the Green River. Cable, telephone, water and sewer lines also fill up space.
“It’s like looking under the hood of a car, there is no extra room,” LaPorte said.
City staff is working with property owners along Central Avenue to see where crews could put in plantings, most likely shrubs.
“We do want to improve the greenery along Central,” LaPorte said.
Nothing, however, has been finalized yet. People shouldn’t expect to see any new plantings until next year. No date has been set for any new landscaping.
“We are still meeting with businesses to see what makes sense to them,” LaPorte said. “We have had a divided response. A lot don’t want any trees because they have a business and want people to see their sign.”
The $6.3 million Central Avenue project included repaving the road between Willis Street and the Green River bridge as well as replacing the sidewalks, curb and gutter; replacing an aging water main; and installing a protective lining to the sewer system.
As far as East James Street, city staff and consultants saw no room for trees.
“James Street is a narrow (3-foot) strip,” LaPorte said. “We had a lot of discussion with neighbors and experts, and if we put trees in it will destroy the sidewalks in 10 years and we would have to start all over.”
Crews are planting shrubs this fall along the street.
“James Street will look really nice in April or May because the shrubs will have taken,” LaPorte said. “They will not be mature but sizable enough for nice greenery.”
The James Street projects included $1.7 million to repave the street up the East Hill and put in new sidewalks and plantings. Crews also installed a new James Street pump station at a cost of $2.3 million to remove overflow water when Mill Creek floods.
LaPorte also has requested $375,000 in each of the next two years in the 2017-18 city budget from the business and occupation tax revenue to replace other trees before they tear up sidewalks across town.
“We need to be more aggressive about replacing the trees before they lift up the sidewalks,” LaPorte said to the council at a Tuesday workshop. “There are a lot of trees throughout town that are at the point. I have pointed out that perhaps the street trees on First Avenue should be replaced pretty soon because they are just about at that point where they start lifting the sidewalk.”