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City agrees to save 15 trees after complaints over renovation at South Commons

Sports Council says softball complex needs millions in improvements to stay competitive

Columbus' 24-year-old South Commons softball complex is showing the wear and tear of age, and the Columbus Sports Council is now pitching the need to improve the facility to continue attracting events and the dollars they bring to the community.
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Columbus' 24-year-old South Commons softball complex is showing the wear and tear of age, and the Columbus Sports Council is now pitching the need to improve the facility to continue attracting events and the dollars they bring to the community.

Three days after Columbus Council was briefed Tuesday on a plan to take out 23 trees during renovation of the South Commons Softball Complex, tree lovers and other stakeholders joined Mayor Berry “Skip” Henderson at the site Friday to resolve growing concerns over removing trees.

A meeting with representatives from the Columbus Sports Council, Trees Columbus, French & Associates, Aaron & Clements along with city officials ended with an agreement to remove eight trees instead of 23, saving 65 percent of trees targeted for removal. The $5.6 million project is on a tight schedule to be completed no later than June 27 as the Sports Council hosts the USA Softball International Cup July 1-7.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said he is pleased with the decision to remove fewer trees. “I was really pleased that we were able to come together and reach such an agreement,” he said Saturday.

Hugley said he didn’t anticipate any objections from the 10-member council with a reduction in tree removal from 23 to 8. “We have worked together, we are all on the same page and moving the project forward,” he said.

Concerns grew louder over the number of trees slated for removal after Newt Aaron, of the Columbus-based management firm Aaron and Clements, said 23 trees were the minimum necessary on Tuesday to complete the work.

“We are in the development business and the city is in the regulating business,” he said Tuesday to council. “Development in construction unfortunately requires cutting down some trees.”

Some trees date to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Games where Team USA won gold in their debut in fastpitch softball. The entrance of the complex includes Olympic oaks.

Under the regulations for the site, the city is required to have 162 tree density units or TDUs. Even with 23 trees removed, Aaron said the city still would have 266 units left.

Councilor Glenn Davis, a former Major League Baseball player, voiced concerns over the loss of trees. He wanted to know if city arborist Scott Jones and Dorothy McDaniel of Trees Columbus were consulted.

Aaron said the Sports Council board has talked to McDaniel. “We are certainly talking to them about what we are doing,” he said.

Most of the targeted trees were along the entrance sidewalk. With more people at the complex, Aaron said the sidewalk will be larger on a path that’s no longer level due to tree roots beneath the walkway.

The entrance walk to the complex now will be shifted to the north and possibly other areas to save trees.

If more trees have to come down, Aaron said he will return to the council. At least the city has been briefed on possible concerns after trees start falling.

“If history repeats itself, once trees start coming down you are going to get calls,” he said. “The important thing is you have been briefed, you understand this is a measured response as absolutely possible.”

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