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Thousands Of Nashvillians #GetCivic, Speak Up For Our Cherry Trees And Demonstrate The Power Of Activism by Margaret Littman for the Nashville Scene

by BriteHeart | 3.31.19

A plan to remove and replant more than 21 cherry blossom trees before the NFL Draft has sparked massive backlash

Update (5:50 p.m.): After plans to cut down the trees were met with widespread outrage, Mayor David Briley has announced they will be removed intact and replanted elsewhere in the city. 

His statement in full:

After hearing the public response over the planned cutting of 21 of the 68 ornamental cherry trees at Riverfront Park, I informed the NFL and Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. (NCVC) that they will have to remove them intact and replant them in our city. If any are found to be diseased or near death when removed, they will be replaced with new, healthy trees. 
The NCVC and NFL will replace the removed trees with 21 new ones, and will also plant 17 more at Riverfront Park in previously vacant and new locations. The NCVC will pay for the relocation and for any sidewalk damage. The NCVC and NFL have also agreed to plant an additional 200 cherry trees – for a total of 238 cherry trees planted – across the city at fire halls, libraries, parks and in other places to continue to honor our relationship with Japan and long-time partnership with the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Due to the change of plans at Riverfront Park, nothing will happen on Monday.

Original story: Is there anything more American than the apocryphal tale of George Washington and whether or not he chopped down that cherry tree? On Friday, members of the community-led Nashville Tree Taskforce learned that they were facing a Washingtonian dilemma.

The NTT became aware that Metro plans to remove 21 cherry blossom trees on the west side of the Cumberland River near Riverfront Park in advance of the massive NFL Draft, which is scheduled to take place April 25-27 in Nashville.

The group, which describes itself as "concerned about their tree canopy in their neighborhoods and in our city," started a petition, which at press time has collected 26,000 signatures and counting in less than 24 hours. Followers on their Facebook Group page were discussing chaining themselves to said trees to stall their removal at 9 a.m. on Monday.

In addition to concerns about the trees being removed, the group has also expressed unease about what is perceived as a lack of transparency in the plan. While Mayor David Briley's office confirmed that the trees will be removed, the NTT petition has some assertions that the mayor's office disputes. At least 26 trees on the west side of the river will be removed. According to the statement:

[These include] 10 at the Court of Flags at the foot of Broadway at First Avenue, and 11 bordering a walkway starting at Broadway and going up First Avenue North. … Metro will also be replacing a minimum of five trees in the area that are dead, damaged, diseased or are in need of replacement. These are not included in the 21 being removed for the Draft.

The trees will be turned into mulch and used on trails in Metro Parks facilities.According to the statement, there are currently 68 trees in this planting area.

The NTT suggests that the city is in violation of Executive Order 40, which requires the city to exceed tree planting and replacement standards on public property, and suggests that $10,000 in compensation from the NFL is insufficient. However, the mayor's office says, "the $10,000 that the city is supposedly getting for this is completely false information."

A spokesperson from NTT was not available for comment on Saturday.

According to the statement from the mayor's office, the NFL and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp will pay for replanting the trees that can be replanted, and replace those that cannot be. New trees will be between 2.5 to 3 inches in diameter. (This is in contrast to the 1-inch size cited in the petition.) "Since the trees will be replaced, the aggregate inches will be less than 100 inches in diameter at breast height. Therefore, the Metro Tree Review Panel did not have to approve the removal."

The mayor's office says the tree removal is needed to accommodate a stage, a 400-foot structure and other logistical elements that will serve as a focal point for the event. "Last year the NFL Draft had an economic impact on the city of Dallas of $125 million, with $75 million in direct spending."

Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the NCVC, adds, "The NFL Draft will be the largest event in the city’s history and will have significant economic return for Davidson County."

In April of last year, Mayor Briley tweeted: “This year marks 10 years of Nashville hosting the Cherry Blossom Festival. In addition to years of wonderful memories, we have planted 1,000 cherry blossom trees. These trees will bloom every spring, reminding us of the beauty of our city and the diversity of our community.”

The statement from his office reiterates his commitment to increasing the tree canopy of Nashville and the Root Nashville goal to plant 500,000 trees in the city. “We are looking forward on Earth Day to celebrate the planting of the 5,000th tree since this effort began in October 2018,” it reads.

In his statement on Saturday, Spyridon states that the net change will be a positive one for the city’s tree count, albeit in the long term. "We met with Metro Parks months ago to relay and discuss the intended removal and replacement of trees for NFL Draft events,” says Spyridon. “Metro Parks staff evaluated and approved. Trees that can be replanted will be. Both the NFL and the NCVC have further committed to donate an additional 100 cherry trees each to Metro Parks for the cherry blossom program. Spyridon says those 200 trees total should be planted and blooming by spring of 2020."

Opponents say they wish they’d had more notice of the trees’ removal, particularly if it had been a matter of discussion for several months.

Mayoral candidate and state Rep. John Ray Clemmons issued a statement that reads, in part: "Nashville cannot forget the contributions of Ms. Betty Brown. The Betty Brown Tree Trail and Arboretum in her honor opened in conjunction with the newly developed Riverfront Park and Ascend Amphitheater in 2015. These trees are a part of our Metro Parks system, yet no formal action was taken by the Parks board."

The 21 trees are not part of the downtown memorial Betty Brown Tree Trail, according to the mayor's office.

"This is yet another example of a backroom deal being cut at the expense of a Nashville neighborhood,” Clemmons’ statement continues. “Also, this transaction displays a new level of cultural incompetence by this administration, as we prepare to celebrate our city and state's relationship with the country of Japan over the next two weeks, culminating with the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday, April 13."

Neither spokespeople from the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival nor the Consul-General of Japan in Nashville has yet responded to requests for comment.

The cherry blossom trees are not the only point of contention for locals surrounding the draft. As the Scene reported in February, some believe that the relocation of an East Side homeless camp was done so in advance of the national spotlight on the city. 

District 7 Metro Councilmember Anthony Davis, who has been a supporter of cherry blossom trees along Inglewood's Riverside Drive, tweeted the following: "I love the NFL, and of course the #Titans as much as anyone. I love the fact that we got the NFL Draft, and generally love the great things @visitmusiccity does. But it's a hard NO on losing any Yoshino Cherry Trees. Some things are just too important and you have to say no."

Davis did not return messages for comment on Saturday.

In his own thread of tweets, District 19 Councilmember Freddie O'Connell, whose district includes Riverfront Park, said "Nashvillians deserved much greater transparency and involvement in a decision that will remove beautiful cherry trees just prior to the [Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival]." 

He continued: "To be clear, despite a comprehensive communication strategy, this issue was not brought to my attention as the district CM nor to my colleagues on the Convention, Tourism, and Public Entertainment Facilities Committee. Not to any member of #MetroCouncil as best I can tell."


Written by BriteHeart

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