- 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.

“When you’ve got people that are in their seventies or eighties, walking a block - it’s a chore,” he said. “For small storefront businesses, having a parking lot two blocks away doesn’t do a damn bit of good.”

The two proposals call for either five or eight new spaces for parallel parking on the street, which would bump the total number of spots to more than 140 - a number that includes on-street parking both on East Main Street and side streets. According to Dupey, part of the problem is that not all of the current parking spots are marked.

“If you can actually stripe them you get a little more order out of it and have a few more spaces,” he said.

Concept One calls for the reconstruction of 7th Street near All-America Square into a “festival street” with decorative pavement materials and a curbless cross-section. Additionally, new trees will be placed along Main Street, although not as many as currently stand. No specific species of trees have yet been chosen, but the plan is to not repeat the problems caused by the current trees. The city would construct larger tree wells, use a tree species whose roots grow down rather than out and chose a more columnar-shaped tree whose canopy won’t hit buildings.

Concept Two forgoes the festival street and adds environmentally friendly storm water planters on side streets. Storm water planters absorb runoff and use it to water plants, reducing the amount of storm water that needs to be channeled into rivers.

“But we heard pretty clearly that that’s probably not the route that people want to go,” Dupey said. They’re not historically accurate. It’s more of a modern way to treat storm water.”

Instead of placing trees along East Main Street, the second concept calls for the planting of trees on the corners of intersections and along side streets.

Amid the talk of the two proposals, Mary Jo Davis, the owner of the Rosebud Consignment Shop on East Main Street, said the city’s resources could be put to better use by trying to attract more businesses or constructing more signs to advertise Cottage Grove on Interstate 5.

“We had a lot of businesses that went out this year,” Davis said. “It is an OK idea to fix up the downtown … But I just feel like unless we really have quality good businesses that complement each other, it’s not really going to help us that much.”

The whole project is still in its infancy. Dupey said he expects to be able to present to city officials design recommendations by mid- to late summer.

The project aims “to have very transparent public engagement processes so that the outcome of this project really supports what city residents have told us,” Dupey said.

At this early phase, officials say they don’t yet have an estimate of the project’s total cost.

“The $150,000 only pays for the process that we go through to get the plan,” said Amanda Ferguson, Cottage Grove’s city planner. “The actual project I expect to cost several million dollars. It will take us years to pursue the funds.”

Meyers agreed, saying that the low number of available grants might mean that the city would potentially consider some sort of tax assessment.

“It’s kind of an exciting process, Meyers said. “This is one where it’s not just a street - it’s the downtown, it’s the living room of the community. How do we want it to look?”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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