Plan for new Courthouse trees gets nudge forward
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Darlington City Council’s proposal for replacing nearly all the Courthouse trees got a nudge forward Dec. 13 when council endorsed a low bid of $6,500 for the work, assuming the plan goes forward with County Council’s cooperation. During a 15-minute special called meeting, council authorized the city to spend that amount of money to buy 23 new trees – 14 Nellie Stevens hollies, seven Southern sugar maples and two willow oaks – from Amerson’s Nursery in Lamar, the low bidder on the project. The city proposes to buy replacement trees if the county will pay the cost of having the existing trees lining the Courthouse – mostly the now-unpopular Bradford pear – taken up. The city proposes using a $5,000 beautification grant from Duke Energy to cover nearly all its costs. All of this depends on County Council backing the city’s plan, and council will consider it at a future meeting. No money is being spent yet on the project. At last week’s brief meeting, Mayor Curtis Boyd said: “The illustration that I use is, ‘The car doesn’t belong to us, but we drive it all the time.’ It’s county property,” but it’s in the middle of town. “We would like to try to work together.” City officials said the county first approached the city about three years ago on the issue of replacing trees around the Courthouse, but the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined any real progress on that. One County Council member says that there are other options, and that there’s no need to be in a hurry. Angie Stone Godbold, who represents the Darlington area on council, said in a Facebook post: “The current Bradford pears were planted (about) 40 years ago. Bottom line is we don’t need to rush into anything and, in my opinion, there’s far more important things that need immediate action instead of trees around the Courthouse. If anything is to be done, there needs to be a well-thought plan developed.” Godbold suggests that the city use the Duke grant to “establish storefront enhancement grants … and align it with the streetscape project, and leave the Courthouse grounds to County Council to consider establishing a plan/apply for a grant with a complete overhaul of the grounds (remove trees, redesign pathways, install underground electricity, redesign the fountain, install a stage area for events, add architectural features to entryway arches of the Courthouse, etc.).” Godbold agrees that “the current trees need to be removed except for the two oaks,” but adds: “I don’t think we need to replace every tree that is removed. I think the space needs to look/feel open to expose the storefronts of the businesses facing the Courthouse to promote/market what’s available around the Square.” She favors the city’s proposal to add holly trees “if they are allowed to keep their foliage to the ground and not pruned to expose the trunks. … I’m not at all in favor of the maples, as they are messy and that debris will add to an already strained drainage system/infrastructure. Makes zero sense to me.” The Bradford pear has been labeled an invasive species, and South Carolina plans to ban the nursery sale of that type of tree in 2024.