Steamboat Springs Stirred Old Town residents have risen to the defense of trees threatened by proposed city sidewalks on Pine Street.
In their latest move, several Pine Street residents agreed to have signs hung on trees in their yards that read, "HELP! The city is planning to cut down this tree for a sidewalk."
On Tuesday, 25 of the signs were hung on both sides of Pine Street from Third to Eighth streets - the span for which the city of Steamboat Springs is in the process of designing sidewalks. Jackie Grimaldi and Larry Guss, who own a home in the 300 block of Pine Street, are responsible for the signs, which cost them a little more than $300 to produce.
"All around this block, people are up in arms," said Alie Alexander, who lives at the corner of Seventh and Pine streets and allowed signs to be placed on cottonwood trees in her yard.
The sidewalk project was a hot topic at Steamboat Springs City Council meetings last month.
"It really hit a nerve," Guss said, "and these aren't so-called activist people."
In addition to the potential for lost trees, Pine Street residents believe the proposed 6-foot-wide sidewalks are too large and would destroy the character of their Old Town neighborhood.
"I don't know why we need a 6-foot sidewalk when a 4-foot sidewalk would be good," Grimaldi said. "I'm sure we'll get a sidewalk, and I'm sure we can work with them, but to take down the trees is just total overkill."
The design work is being guided by the city's master plan for sidewalks, which proposes uniform sidewalks throughout the city. City officials have noted the expense that would be associated with tailor-made sidewalks, but Guss opposes the uniform approach.
"It looks like somebody in city planning put a straight edge down Pine Street," he said.
Grimaldi and Guss said they felt blindsided by the sidewalk proposal at a public meeting last month, while city officials maintain that the project is in its infancy.
"Some of the residents are concerned about the existing trees," City Engineer Janet Hruby said. "In response to that, the city has done an evaluation of the trees with our arborist to identify which trees are healthy, which trees are in questionable health - which there were a few - and then which trees are maybe healthy or in questionable health but have limbs that are maybe a safety risk.
"We're evaluating that information now and working on a redesign that will keep the healthy trees and maybe replant and replace the ones that are unhealthy that we would be removing."
Grimaldi and Guss sent a letter to City Manager Alan Lanning with signatures from about 40 people who oppose the funding and construction of the sidewalk. The two also have appealed to the city's Historic Preservation Advisory Commission.
"We should be preserving the aesthetics of Old Town," Guss wrote in a letter to the commission. "But, in my opinion, ribbons of concrete do not fit that philosophy."
City officials have noted the paradox of the controversy on Pine Street when the sidewalk master plan was developed because there was community consensus that more sidewalks are needed in Steamboat. Many Pine Street residents acknowledge the competing interests.
Don Karr, who lives in the 700 block of Pine Street across from the temporary location of Soda Creek Elementary School, said it is a shame children don't have sidewalks to walk on, but said they just don't make sense on Pine Street.
"There's two sides of it, but I don't want to see a sidewalk," said Karr, who has one of the signs affixed to a cottonwood in his front yard. "We like the trees."
Sitting with her young son amongst the cottonwoods in her yard Tuesday morning, Alexander said she is in an awkward position: she doesn't want to lose the trees, but she also would like her son - and another child on the way - to benefit from the safety of sidewalks.
"I think there's a way they can have the sidewalks and the trees," Alexander said. "I'd like to have them both, but I'm not sure how that could happen."
Given their neighbors' response, Grimaldi and Guss may purchase more signs. The sidewalk proposal also involves 12th Street, but Grimaldi said she ran out of signs before she could put them on that street as well.
"Not one person said no," Grimaldi said. "We have not had one negative response to the signs."
Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord was at a loss Friday to respond to the signs and continued to stress that the city is in its early design phase.
"I honestly don't know how to respond to that," she said.
DuBord noted that the signs, which were hung using large metal staples, probably aren't healthy for the trees Guss and Grimaldi aim to save.
"The ones that were sick might get sicker," she said.