Burlington neighbors heartbroken that historic trees must be removed because of safety concerns

BURLINGTON, N.C. -- Some of Burlington's most attractive homes are in the West Davis Street/Fountain Place Historic District. Jeff Parsons is Burlington's cemetery and grounds superintendent. To him, what really stands out about the community are the trees.

"When folks want to show off Burlington, you come down to Davis and Fountain Place," Parsons said.

Massive oak trees line West Davis Street. Some say the trees were planted over 70 years ago to honor local World War II veterans. The oaks and some maples were planted with the best intentions. But now, the tall trees are a growing problem. ‚Äč

"Didn't expect any damage," Parsons said. "I just happened to find the tree one morning. It blew over and onto the property."

No one was hurt and no homes were damaged when the tree fell into a homeowner's yard in early September. But a stretch of bright white cement shows were Burlington repair crews fixed the sidewalk after the root ball of the giant tree tore through the walkway. After the early September event, City of Burlington staff along with a certified arborist tested 26 huge trees that were in the city's right of way. Eleven trees, mostly oaks, were declared unsafe, marked with a pink dot and scheduled for removal.

Mark Danieley is the Alamance County Extension director and certified arborist. Recently he gave homeowners that live on or near West Davis Street a tour of the trees marked for removal. With a hammer in hand, Danieley knocked on the thick trunks and exposed roots. He listened for a hollow sound. Danieley pointed out the thud to the neighbors. It's a sign that the tree is unhealthy and it is a potential safety hazard.

"Surprised they haven't died sooner, shallow root zone," Danieley said.

Parsons added the massive trees need more than just three to four feet of space to grow.

"If the tree doesn't have a good root system and it's top heavy, the top acts like a sail and there's not much to hold it up," Parsons said.

In one to two weeks, contractors will begin taking down the trees. Homeowners are heartbroken. But Jerry Taylor understands why 11 majestic trees in his neighborhood have to come down.

"We understand that there's no doubt that they are a liability," Taylor said. "That was proven last year when a tree across the street from us -- fell over and into our yard. It blocked traffic. It could have a catastrophe."

Parsons is also upset that the trees will have to be removed.

"I feel like I have a relationship with the things growing here and I consider these trees my trees," he said.

Burlington is estimating that it will cost $30,000 to remove the huge trees. Contractors will also prune trees that are in the city's right of way. Homeowners will not be charged for the work. When tree removal begins in one to two weeks, residents should expect lane closures and traffic delays.

Burlington is studying which trees are suitable replacements and have the ability to thrive in tight spaces.

If you are not sure about the health of your trees, call your county extension agent.