Update: Monday evening following community response, Project Manager Keith Woolley said that he has directed the contractor not to remove the tree for now. In an email, he stated he can’t make any commitments about the tree remaining in the project, due to potential design conflicts, but commits to allowing the concerns of the community to be heard by the city.
Original article below:
Early Monday morning, the barista at Common Ground Cupcakes was shocked to see the trees outside the Wells Avenue South and Third Street intersection crushed and pulled out of the ground by construction trucks. They were able to stop them from pulling out one of the trees, a Maple that they say is over 30 years old and has been there before Common Ground opened 13 years ago.
Businesses in downtown Renton have been expecting and looking forward to a slowdown of traffic thanks to the Wells and Williams Conversion Project. But it’s coming at the expense of a matured tree that this business says is an important part of the sense of peace and well-being outside its doors.
In fact, owner Lange Woon said that when he first came to downtown Renton to open the business 13 years ago the city was planning to remove the tree. At the time, he told them that he would only put his business there if the tree stayed. The new trees that were added in recent years along the other side of the business have also prevented cars from smashing into the windows of Common Ground.
Woon said they weren’t notified that the tree was to be removed, and pointed to the fact that the tree appears to be featured in renderings of the new intersection from the city, which is being remodeled to accommodate two-way traffic and offer more pedestrian safety features. After they reached out to the city as the trees were being removed, they learned the intention is to replace the tree with a new one around 2024.
Project Manager Keith Woolley said that while they did go through the open house and show renderings of the project to Woon, he can’t say for sure if the tree was identified as being removed during their conversations. Woolley said the renderings were meant to represent new plantings and sidewalks.
The coffee shop has asked on social media for the community to contact city officials to request a workaround.
“The tree offers breeze, it calms traffic through here, cools the store down and provides cover for our customers to sit. There’s a lot of energy from the tree,” Woon said.
Lange Woon’s daughter Christina Woon grew up with this tree. She said the tree had been home to migratory birds throughout the years. As the other trees were taken down, birds were seen flying out of them.
Common Grounds Barista Stef Winton said she wondered if there was a safer way to take down the trees, or to store the tree and then bring it back after work on the intersection is complete. Winton not only works there, but also lives on Third Street, and said the tree is part of the atmosphere downtown.
More information on the Wells and Williams project is available here.