The tree was beloved, they said.
A pretty Korean mountain ash that stood alone on an empty lot for years. It didn’t deserve to be cut down by the city.
When hundreds of people turned out for a public meeting Monday in Ballard, some were as worked up about the tree as they were about the possible fate of the lot on which it stood – on Market Street near the Ballard Locks. Mayor Ed Murray’s office recently shortlisted the lot as a possible location for a homeless tent city.
Standing in the vacant lot on Monday, Mary Fleck lamented the demise of the tree, cut down by the city several days ago.
“Dear Street Tree, you thought you were so tough. Withstanding cars and trucks pounding by your roots. We climbed the bus but didn’t see your tenderness. We were wrong about you. That was our Street Tree,” she said.
Seattle City Light once operated a substation on the property, but the lot has been vacant for several years. Contaminated soil there will require clean-up before the lot is usable for any purpose.
Monday’s meeting, organized by the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, took place next door in the parking lot of VFW Post 3063. VFW officials worry that having a homeless camp so close will reduce the post’s revenue from event rentals.
“They chose this without telling anybody. And so there’s understandably a little community reaction to it,” said post quartermaster Harold Rodenberger. “I don’t like it. Not that I dislike homeless people, and I think homeless encampments are fine, but they should be in a nonresidential area, which the city says they would do.
"But if you look up right behind the location here, there are five apartment condo complexes up there that are certainly right next door to the homeless, the proposed homeless encampment. The first I knew about it was they came and cut down that Korean mountain ash that was a nice tree next to the fence over there.”
Of the roughly 20 people who made public comments at the meeting, all opposed putting a tent city there. While several speakers said they were open to hosting a homeless encampment elsewhere in Ballard, most said they felt the selection process lacked public input and transparency.
The city passed legislation in March allowing sanctioned homeless camps on public or private land in non-residential areas.
Organizers had invited Mayor Ed Murray; Seattle Department of Planning and Development Director Karen Sugimura; and Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien to Monday’s meeting. O’Brien was the only one who showed up.
“Obviously there’s a lot of passion and interest in how we move forward with this. People are frustrated. They’re disappointed that there hasn’t been a better city process,” O’Brien said. He said there had to be a way to address the needs of “homeless people in our community, respecting the rights of residents and business owners in the process.”
And the trees.
Murray’s office has scheduled its own public meeting to discuss the Ballard site, at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Aug. 12, at Leif Erickson Hall at 2245 N.W. 57th St.