Elm trees at center of South Park Blocks controversy

Civic Affairs

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to remake the South Park Blocks but many who frequent the park are unhappy with the city’s proposed plan.

The City Council moved forward with the $47 million master plan to change the South Park Blocks despite overwhelming public testimony against it.

The new design includes relocating some of the rose gardens and adding new art installations and plants, a promenade down the center of the park and a green loop to allow for more bikes and pedestrians.

While there are things on the list many people agree on, the controversy largely stems from how the plan impacts the beloved historic elm trees.

Stephen Kafoury is part of the Concerned Citizens Group which strongly opposes the plan. He said the redesign doesn’t include a maintenance plan for the trees to keep them healthy and instead would lead to the removal of many.

“They’re not removing any trees except — and you have to listen to that big ‘except’ — and the first ‘except’ is if they’re dead or dying and if you don’t maintain them, they will become dead and dying,” Kafoury said. “The second big ‘except’ is if they’re damaged by construction and if you do construction here in the park, they’re going to be dead and dying.”

South Park Blocks Master Plan

The city said it only plans to remove trees when they naturally reach the end of their lifespans.

Kafoury and others say they simply want the park to continue to be a refuge for people and remain an asset to the city. Kafoury said the Concerned Citizens Group will stay involved and hopes to reach a compromise with the city.

“Hundreds if not thousands of citizens are saying no, that’s not what we want at all — it’s the old saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” said Kafoury.

The city has said there is no funding yet for the project so it’s still in its infancy. City leaders said they welcome input from the public as the project evolves.

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