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Sign Gets to Root of Ferndale’s Love of Trees

Sign Gets to Root of Ferndale’s Love of Trees

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 12, 2017)

Ferndale, MI – A piece of paper hung for about a week on a large oak tree in front of the empty Wilson School Building in Ferndale with signatures from people who do not want to see the tree cut down. ‘Save Me…Think about my bottom line,” said the note along with nearly 50 names.

The property was sold by the Ferndale School District to Robertson Homes and after months of public meetings and site plan revisions, the school and the trees are being removed to make way for new homes. The decades old oaks will be replaced with a diverse mix of 74 new trees in a project that calls for 40% green space for each lot.  But the loss of the old trees still devastates neighbors.

Shannon O’Brien now lives on West Marshall, but spent ten years living on Academy where the trees were a constant focal point for her and her family. “I used to walk over to Wilson park near the school and my kids played there, under those trees,” she said.  She put the sign up on one of the trees in hopes that the developers will spare it.

Though the sign is unlikely to derail the development plans, it is helping neighbors connect and raising discussions about trees in the community.

“This evening as we drive by, we see the branches and logs and trunks lying devastated on the ground. And I see my sign, still tied up on the tree! Phew, I think. The site of the less fortunate trees greatly saddens me but I am glad there is a hold-out tree,” she wrote on Facebook.

“We get to the corner of University and Paxton and notice a man walking toward the corner, his eyes on the building that is the old Wilson School. Al rolls down his window and says “quite a shame, isn’t it” and the man agrees. He asks us if we ever noticed the architecture of this building, the way the bricks are laid row upon row of short brick, long brick, a pattern. He has been admiring the stature and shape of this near century old building. We agree, I tell him of the picture I took the other day looking west along the south facing wall-the foundation which looks like granite, and the beautiful brick. We agree that it is a shame it is being destroyed. And the trees. Al tells him that I am the person who made the sign.  He tells me it was on the ground again today and he picked it up and tied it back around the tree. One action by one person, in a sea of cut down trees that no-one seems to be able to do much about it. I cannot express how heartened I was, driving away from that man and the school and park. All the way home I exclaimed about it. I am still. A few words and a solitary action by a complete stranger -turning my sad and helpless mind’s framework inside out and upside down with a crazy little feeling of hope and warmth. It does matter. The littlest things -they really and truly do matter. Remember this, people, as you move forward into your next step. It matters. And the old trees? Tie signs around them when threatened. Admire them and hug them, like you would your great grandmother. It may help save them and it may not, but it all matters.”

There are mixed opinions about developments like the Wilson project.  With soaring housing prices and rental costs, increasing housing options has been part of the city’s plans. Yet so has the commitment to increasing the tree canopy and incorporating green space into project plans.

City Ordinance requires developments to include tree planting.  City Planner Justin Lyons explained the rules, stating “The City’s landscaping ordinance requires trees and replacement for new developments. Off-street parking lots required 3 trees for every 25 parking spaces and greenbelts shall contain one deciduous tree per each 30 linear feet, or fraction thereof, of frontage onto a public right-of-way.”

A recent blog on the City’s website also gives details about how ordinances work to ensure that trees are planted in projects like the one at Wilson and a similar development planned for the former Taft School at Allen and Fielding.

The City is looking at other ways as well.

In 2016 the City commissioned a tree inventory and tree canopy study to serve as a starting point for conservation and growth efforts.

A total of  1,814 sites were inventoried, including  1,756 trees  and 58 stumps. The inventory found  69 species representing  41 genera.  36% are Maple. Honeylocust are 9%.  Honeylocust are 9%.  Oak are 9%.  Pear are 7% Linden are 7% and the remaining genera are 2%.

Of the trees, 3 were dead, 1 was in critical shape, 102 were in poor shape, 578 were in fair, 1067 were good and 5 were very good.

The study also showed that Ferndale has a 30% tree canopy, with 50% of the city made of impervious surfaces (like buildings, traditional streets and parking lots) and 19% permeable surfaces.

Ferndale City Council made a commitment to bringing the tree canopy from 30% to 50% and has been taking steps in that direction.

DPW Director Loyd Cureton said of those efforts “It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the City of Ferndale’s Urban Tree Canopy. Trees provide a wide range of benefits to our community. Trees have a substantial impact of water quality by diverting huge amount of storm water, as much is 49,000,000 gallons annually. Beyond storm water, trees have been shown to increase property value, help conserve energy,  reduce carbon dioxide levels, improve air quality, specifically Ferndale’s tree canopy reduces air pollution by 57,000 pounds, annually and stores 2600 tons of carbon per year. Because of the significant contribution that the city’s urban tree canopy provides to our community, Ferndale is a Tree City, and will continue to emphasize, promote, and expand this valuable resource.”

The City’s latest Master Plan includes creating a tree nursery where the DPW will grow trees that can be transplanted elsewhere in the city.  They also currently have a program where homeowners can have low cost trees planted in the greenspace along the curbs or that they can plant on their own.  In April the Ferndale Beautification Commission hosted a workshop about tree planting to raise awareness about the tree planting programs and to encourage diversity of tree types when planting.

The tall oak tree by Wilson came down Tuesday. A sign similar to O’Brien’s has been placed on a tree at the Taft development site.


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