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story.lead_photo.caption A recently cut tree rests on the ground Thursday near the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock. The city stopped the removal of large willow oaks from the library’s plaza earlier in the week so an assessment of the health of trees can be done. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

An assessment of the health of trees and landscaping features at North Little Rock's William F. Laman Public Library will be done to determine how best to preserve its trees after the city stopped the removal of large willow oaks from the library's plaza earlier in the week.

The North Little Rock Tree Board met in an "emergency meeting" Thursday at Laman Library at 2801 Orange St. to inspect the tree canopy and make a recommendation to library staff members. Dan Degonia, a certified arborist with Apple Tree Service under contract with the city, also made an initial assessment of the health of the trees.

One willow oak was cut down Tuesday near the Veterans Memorial inside Laman Plaza, at the corner of Pershing Boulevard and Orange Street. Four other willow oaks lining Orange Street and six locust trees in front of the library were marked with a red "X" to be taken down.

A complaint about the tree being cut down led to city Parks Director Terry Hartwick stopping the removal Tuesday, until the Tree Board could meet and have the arborist inspect the trees.

The Tree Board's duties include creating an "official comprehensive plan" for trees and shrubs in public areas, including the preservation, removal or pruning of trees and shrubs.

Park ranger Ian Hope, the Tree Board's chairman, said that the downed oak tree could have been saved with trimming and proper maintenance, according to what Degonia told him, with a possible 30 years of life left.

"We'll figure out which trees were diseased or didn't look good," Hope said. "I'd hate to take out a tree for that reason, for the aesthetics. It's different when it could fall onto something."

Hope said the trees along Orange Street were still healthy but needed maintenance such as one that had been trimmed in a way that the heavy limbs were hanging over the street.

"I don't see any need to put them on the ground," Hope said of the trees.

The library's board of trustees had previously discussed the need to clean up the plaza grounds and remove problem trees that are too close to the building or have large limbs that extend over the street or parking areas, Richard Theilig, the library's associate director for special projects, told Tree Board members while touring the plaza grounds Thursday.

Theilig said that 13 small cypress trees by the plaza's fountain had already been removed and other trees cut back. When a tree service was hired to remove those trees, all of the library's trees were evaluated, Theilig said, leading to several trees being marked for removal.

"The roots would damage the fountain area," he said. "They weren't growing very well either. Everything hanging over the pond was cut off."

The locust trees along the library building need to be removed, he said, because they are too close to the foundation and their branches have scraped the building and even broken windows.

The Tree Board's meeting came after businessman Bubba Lloyd saw the oak tree being cut down Tuesday and called City Hall. That resulted in Hartwick being notified, and he went to the site and had the work stopped.

Lloyd, who attended Thursday's meeting, was a close friend of late North Little Rock Mayor William "Casey" Laman, for whom the library is named. He said the aesthetics of the library grounds "was very important to him. He really wanted this to be a showplace." The library opened in its current location in 1962.

"They should be glad that Mayor Laman wasn't here when the tree cutting started," Lloyd said afterward.

The sudden cutting down of trees in public spaces has often riled members of the public, both in North Little Rock and Little Rock, with instances of a large number of complaints happening late last year and even going back about 20 years.

Mayor Joe Smith had nine willow oak and live oak trees removed in December from a city parking lot to "open up" the area behind the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce downtown building. Criticism was rampant on social media with more than 230 comments posted, leading to city officials putting out a statement to explain the reasoning.

In 1998, developers of an apartment complex clear-cut a 130-foot-high, heavily wooded slope above the Bowman Curve shopping center in west Little Rock that drew many complaints to the city, though the hillside was zoned for a multifamily development.

Laman and other residents protested when trees and shrubs were removed from an area in Burns Park for a proposed cell tower, also in 1998. Laman said at a public Planning Commission meeting that the removal had "scarred the ground" and the city was "prostituting the park" by leasing out the area.

"Don't make the old girl hustle money for the city," Laman was quoted as saying in a newspaper article about the meeting.

Metro on 11/02/2018

Print Headline: North Little Rock library trees to get exams after cutting halted

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