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Tree to leave spot in front of Norwalk business

Annie Zelm • Jun 30, 2010 at 8:07 AM


A tree grows in Norwalk, but not for much longer.

After much talk, the honey locust blocking a sign at a downtown business is going down.

The Norwalk tree board voted 3-0 Tuesday in favor of allowing Uptown Cafe owner Miguel Lugo to remove the tree at his own expense and replace it with another of the same variety.

Lugo complained the tree has cost him customers, particularly out-of-towners who aren't familiar with his restaurant at 5 E. Main St.

Board member Bernie Car made the motion, and Jim Collins seconded it.

Judy Emmons "regretfully agreed" to allow the tree to come down, but expressed concerns.

The other two tree board members, Mary Hinckley and Fred Downey, were not at the meeting.

The issue has angered some council members and business owners who accused city leaders of giving more priority to a tree than to a local business.

"A tree doesn't pay taxes," Norwalk councilman and business owner Dwight Tkach said during the board's discussion. "A tree doesn't hire one person."

Before the meeting, tree board members consulted several experts, including urban forester Alan Siewert of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

In a letter addressed to safety service director Linda Hebert, Siewert wrote the tree appeared to be healthy and only needed some proper pruning to improve its appearance.

He said the sign the tree blocks is so high it can't be seen from a sidewalk or car window, making it an ineffective way to draw in customers regardless of whether the tree is there.

Siewert urged the council to "take the high ground" and keep the tree, or risk establishing a dangerous precedent in the community.

"It is a slippery slope," Siewert wrote. "To make one decision just to get a complainer to go away will inevitably lead to the next complaint."

Emmons agreed, saying the tree provides shade for the outdoor dining area and makes it more attractive.

Main Street Norwalk program manager Kristie Wert said trees generally contribute to the overall success of businesses, but she believed it was in the best interest of the community to allow this one to be taken down and replaced.

Car and Collins agreed that this case should be the exception, not necessarily the rule.

"It's a lot easier to plant a new tree than to get a new business," Collins said. "Just because we make this decision doesn't mean we're bound by it. We want to be business-friendly in Norwalk."

Stan Obrenovich, president of Speculative Ventures, which owns the Uptown Cafe and rents it to Lugo, thanked the tree board for resolving the problem.

"With this tree gone, we can highlight our building again," he said, adding that he plans to expand the restaurant soon.

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