Published Thursday, February 28, 2013

Merchant's appeal saves 'Big Eight'


Editor’s note: The Newnan Times-Herald reporter John Winters relates that an appeal to save the corner trees on Newnan’s Court Square has almost risen to the level of a court appeal. Today he shares the latest chapter from the Newnan City Council meeting Tuesday.

The planned execution of eight Laurel Oaks around Newnan’s downtown square was halted Tuesday in a last minute appeal.

Whether the trees will be spared the chainsaw remains to be seen as Newnan City Council decided to return the matter back to a “lower court” for review.

In an emotional plea before the city’s highest body, Phyllis Graham, owner of Court Square business Let Them Eat Toffee, argued city officials failed to consider the standing of all merchants with businesses along the square.

“I am on the design committee of MainStreet Newnan, and we were never contacted,” she said. “We never discussed this.”

MainStreet is an organization made up of downtown merchants.

“No one came to our shop,” she added. “No one asked our opinion.”

She presented the city council with a petition with about 250 signatures in favor of sparing the trees, adding, “I did not bribe anyone with chocolate.”

And it was that fact — that MainStreet was not involved — that led council to eventually vote to have the case reviewed.

A few months ago, the city’s Tree Commission addressed what to do with about 70 trees throughout the downtown area. Those recommendations included pruning some, removing others, replanting and other plans.

That recommendation also included the removal of what are now known as The Big Eight.

The plan was approved by council, and the orders began to be carried out. Various trees were removed and others pruned, with The Big Eight’s turn coming up.

However, council members began hearing from business owners who wanted to save The Big Eight, and so the matter was referred back to the Tree Commission. Earlier this month, that commission again recommended staying with the original plan, which included nixing the Laurel Oaks. Council approved that with councilman George Alexander opposing and councilman Bob Coggin absent.

But after Tuesday’s council session, the trees are getting yet another appeal as council is asking the Tree Commission to meet with MainStreet Newnan merchants and make one more “final” decision.

“I think Miss Graham made a very valid point about MainStreet not being involved,” said Councilman Clayton Hicks.

Councilman Ray DuBose said he called the director of MainStreet, who said the organization was never involved in the process.

Mayor Keith Brady also said Graham’s point was “very valid ... MainStreet is the perfect venue for this.”

However, council members Bob Coggin and Rhodes Shell indicated they were ready to move forward with the original recommendations.

“I thought the Tree Commission was empowered by us to make the decision,” Coggin said.

Shell added, “We can’t go on forever,” noting not everyone was going to be happy with any decision.

After a lengthy discussion, at least by council standards, Councilwoman Cynthia Jenkins made a motion to refer the matter back to the Tree Commission, and for the committee to meet with MainStreet Newnan to come up with a consensus. That was seconded by Alexander and passed with Brady, DuBose and Hicks in favor. Coggin and Shell voted against giving the trees another chance.

In other action Tuesday, council:

Approved adding one school resource officer, who will be stationed at elementary schools located in the city limits. Funding for the position will be split between the city and the Coweta County School System.

Approved transferring $196,016 from the general fund’s reserve to the sanitation fund to cover start-up costs associated with the city taking over bulk and yard waste pickup beginning Monday. The money taken from the reserve fund is from proceeds the city received when it sold sanitation equipment when garbage pickup was privatized in 2004.

Approved a request from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to hold a 5K walk Sept. 14, beginning and ending at Carl Miller Park on Sewell Road.

Approved a request from the Coweta County Drug Court to hold a 5K walk April 27 on its regular route.

Deferred to city staff for a recommendation on a request from Jimmy Duncan to name the area at the intersection of Jackson Street, U.S. Highway 29 and Roscoe Road in memory of his family, who owned and operated Duncan’s barbecue restaurant in that area for 44 years.

Approved a request from Prevent Child Abuse Coweta to place pinwheels on the lawn of the Municipal Building on Jefferson Street and hold their Pinwheels for Prevention celebration during the month of April.

Approved a request to authorize up to an additional $10,000 in matching funds relating to the Livable Centers Initiative grant award from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Voted to change the regular city council meeting on March 14 from 2:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. and follow that with the annual city council retreat.

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