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Bricks replace trees removed in parts of downtown Geneva

GENEVA – Along the west side of Third Street from Hamilton to State, the sidewalk trees are missing, and the places where they once stood are bricked over.

Taken down because of the ravages of the emerald ash borer, the four missing trees have not been replaced, said Chris Bong, streets and fleets superintendent, because you can’t plant a new tree on top of an old tree’s root ball.

“We took out the ones that had died, and, as it turns out, that is not the best spot for trees,” Bong said. “They don’t do well in that environment, confined and in an area where there is just a lot of concrete, so we enhanced the area with bricks.”

Another area in Geneva where a tree is missing is between the City Barbershop, 218 W. State St., and Good Cents Children, 220 W. State St. That area was covered with concrete.

One way to enhance those areas would be to put large decorative planters to rest on the areas, but there is no money in the budget for that right now, Bong said.

If the city were to replant trees in some of its sidewalk areas, it would have to be part of a major project, Bong said. 

“You’d almost have to redesign the streetscape to put something back in,” Bong said. “You’d have to dig a new, larger tree pit. Trees downtown, it’s a tough, harsh environment for trees.”

One tree that might work is an ivory silk lilac, which does not grow tall and is used in tight-fitting areas, he said.

“They call it a dwarf tree. It reduces our problems down the line with a lot less trimming because they don’t grow very tall,” Bong said. “We try to put those in wherever we have wires above us.”

City Administrator Mary McKittrick said merchants also have not wanted trees to be replaced because they can block stores’ signage. 

“Before the emerald ash borer hit, we were hearing complaints from merchants, ‘These trees are blocking my store sign.’ As each one comes down, for whatever reason … we work with the merchant,” McKittrick said.

“The city has always tried to be business-friendly,” McKittrick said. “So many times, we can’t be flexible. We have to follow the law. So if a merchant  prefers it not be there and no law says it has to be there, we work with them.”

The urban tree canopy in the Third Street shopping district is different, McKittrick said, because a lot of the businesses have front yards and wide grassy areas. 

Trees planted in pits sunk into concrete pose other difficulties just keeping them alive, McKittrick said, especially when plows push snow laden with salt upon them.

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