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City votes to let magnolia trees remain
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A united cheer rose from the crowd Tuesday night when McMinnville officials voted unanimously to leave seven magnolia trees in place.
“The tree huggers win one,” said Rachel Killebrew. “Isn’t it wonderful? The trees get to stay.”
Killebrew and fellow tree hugger Chitra Mukherji gave a passionate plea for saving the trees to city board members Mayor Jimmy Haley, Vice Mayor Ben Newman and Aldermen Mike Neal, Ken Smith, Jimmy Bonner, Rick Barnes and Billy Wood.
Mukherji says she was saddened to read officials were considering removing the magnolia trees located off Court Square in a parking lot behind The Lot.
 “I love trees,” she said. “I know they are messy trees, but there should be some other alternative to save these trees. They just need some more care. We’ve done it before with cleaning and mulching. We would be happy to do it again and do even more just to save the trees.”
Killebrew says she and Mukherji are members of Main Street McMinnville’s Design Committee which holds cleanup days in downtown a couple times a year.
“Those trees were part of the master plan by EG&G,” said Killebrew. “We request that you do not disturb them. The Design Committee has two cleanup days a year and we would be willing to include the area. We will rake and add mulch. We would be willing to increase that to four times a year.”
After listening to the appeal, officials opened the measure up for board discussion.
Newman says he had no intentions of voting to remove the trees.
“I did not know the trees were part of the design plan for downtown,” he said. “However, I don’t see cutting them down. That’s my opinion on this and I’m not going to vote to cut them.”
McMinnville Public Works director Bill Brock asked Streets and Sanitation Committee members on May 28 to consider removing the trees and replacing them with trees that are lower maintenance, Japanese Zelkova.
When committee members were unable to come to an agreement on the fate of the magnolias — Wood wanted to remove all of them, Barnes wanted to remove all but one, and Bonner wanted to leave them — they agreed to send the measure to the full board for its consideration.
Wood says his stance on the trees has changed.
“We are elected to do what you want us to do,” he said. “I have not had one person say cut them down so I can’t do it either.”
The replacement trees were also an issue for Newman.
“If people are going to vote to cut them down, which I’m against, I think they should at least be replaced with native trees and not the trees proposed. If the board is going to vote to remove them, at least replace them with a tree that’s native,” said Newman.
Haley says maintenance issues can be resolved by concrete.
“If it’s a maintenance issue, then we can get rid of all the grass and cut down all the trees and just pave everything,” said Haley with sarcasm. “Then we have no mowing contracts. We have no leaves to rake and we have concrete wasteland. It makes it easier to maintain.”
A motion by Newman to not remove the trees passed unanimously.