- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. (AP) - Overgrown trees, buckled sidewalks and a Main Street that needs repaving have residents discussing what’s next for the historic downtown.

“It’s obvious that the trees have buckled the sidewalks,” said Betsy Hartzell, who along with her husband, Hal Hartzell, owns Kalapuya Books on Main Street. “That’s a problem that has to be addressed.”

Jim Kness, who is blind, has lived in Cottage Grove since 1986 and frequently walks downtown to visit with friends.

“It’s the joy of my life; it’s the way I have to get out of my attic loft room,” Kness said. “I’m always tripping over the parts in the sidewalk where the tree roots have lifted up the sidewalk.”

The trees were originally planted during Jeff Towery’s 6 1/2-year tenure as city manager of Cottage Grove in the 1990s. Eager to green the downtown, the city cut small openings in the sidewalks on a five-block stretch of East Main Street and planted about 40 small maple trees.

“We had been working with the chamber and a group of downtown businesses to try and renovate, revitalize and make downtown more attractive,” recalled Towery, now assistant city manager in Springfield. “It was a project that came out of community input. Folks wanted to have it happen.”

Years of growth, however, have caused the trees to outgrow their holes. In a number of places along the strip, roots have pushed up and cracked the curbs and sidewalk slabs.

Alex Dupey, the project manager for David Evans and Associates - the Portland-based design and engineering firm hired to survey the community and develop a proposal for revitalizing East Main - said he is not positive what type of trees they are, but a landscape architect on his team suspects that the trees are sugar maples.

According to the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, that variety of maple can become enormous. Under optimal conditions, according to the department’s website, a mature sugar maple grows to between 70 to 90 feet in height and can have a trunk that is 2 to 3 feet thick at chest-level. The report says sugar maple trees annually average about one foot of vertical growth and one-fifth-inch of diameter growth.

“The sidewalks were not designed originally for trees,” said Richard Meyers, current city manager of Cottage Grove. “The holes are basically a 2-foot hole. The trunks are now the same size as the holes in some cases.”

The trees and sidewalks are just two among a spate of issues downtown, Meyers said. He said the streets’ crown - the curvature from the middle down to the sides of the street, a normal occurrence after a street is resurfaced a number of times - needs to be redone and that there is a need for more electric and water connections along storefronts.

In July 2013, city planners were awarded a $150,000 grant from a program run by the state Department of Land Conservation and Development and the state Department of Transportation. Separately, the city and state have rebuilt the intersection of Highway 99 and East Main Street that serves as the east gateway into the downtown.

The city used the 2013 grant to hire David Evans and Associates - which notably used 3-D lasers to identify obstacles along Space Shuttle Endeavour’s planned hauling route from the Los Angeles Airport to the California Science Center - to work with the community to develop proposals for the City Council.

Two proposals, known as Concept One and Concept Two, both call for the removal of the trees lining the sides of East Main Street and a widening of the sidewalk on both sides of the street from the current 8 to 10 feet, according to Dupey, to 12.5 feet or 14 feet. Both plans call for new trees, although planted in different configurations than the current lineup of trees.

Kim Penfold, who along with his wife Terrie and son Fred owns Penfold’s Beads and Things on East Main Street, said he wants to be sure that whatever is done, there is plenty of on-street parking.

Story Continues →