Compass: Town Square tree cutting was necessary for safety

Several fresh tree stumps appear in Town Square Park on Thursday, May 1, 2014, downtown. Erik Hill

The annual Festival of Flowers is Saturday in Town Square Park from 12-6 p.m. The event is a partnership between the municipality, Parks and Recreation Department, and Anchorage Downtown Partnership. Together, along with a great deal of community involvement, this event helps brighten Anchorage in more ways than one. Making Anchorage a beautiful, enjoyable and safe city to live, work and play in has always been a priority.

I was regretfully informed that the Alaska Master Gardeners would withdraw from this year's Festival of Flowers celebration. The work of the organization has been greatly appreciated in the past in working toward our goal of an endowment to preserve the flower budget within the Municipality of Anchorage.

The safety of those enjoying Town Square Park is of upmost importance to me and the municipality. Better visibility of the park's activities from the outside was a simple way to ease the problems being continually reported to the city by residents and local businesses.

The Municipality of Anchorage has received a significant level of constituent concerns over the course of several years in regards to the dangers and bad behavior occurring in this specific corner of the park. The decision to clean up the park and allow less of a barrier was overwhelmingly supported by the Kobuk Coffee House and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership.

The discussion of the removal of the trees did, in fact, take place at the Town Square Design Charette. Municipal Ombudsman Darrell Hess spoke about public safety issues including the spotlight added in the northeast corner of the park, a decorative fence above the retaining wall and the removal of some trees and lower limbs from other trees.

In addition, there is nothing in the charter that prohibits the removal of trees, nor does it offer guidance for management of the park. The charter simply dedicates the space "for use as a town square park providing open space in the downtown city center." The Anchorage Downtown Comprehensive Plan, which provides some park management suggestions, is not a statutory document and does not prevent the municipality from addressing legitimate public safety concerns.

I appreciate the Alaska Master Gardeners' involvement in our city and the work that they do for Anchorage. I hope they can understand that the removal of the nine trees from the park was done in the best interest of residents enjoying the park; it remains a beautiful space that hopefully everyone can now enjoy and feel safe doing so.

The municipality would gladly welcome the master gardeners back in the future if they wish to participate in helping ensure Anchorage remains a vibrant city through our Festival of Flowers.

John Rodda is the city's director of Parks and Recreation.