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More than 1,100 sign ‘Tree-gate’ petition

Online campaign to ask city administration to replant area in park

Submitted photo Adam Gregory, board member of the Historic Perkins Homestead Neighborhood Association, photographs the stumps left behind when about 20 trees were removed in a historic area of the city over the holidays to make room for a bocce court for the annual Warren Italian-American Heritage Festival.

WARREN — More than 1,100 people have signed a petition calling on Warren’s administration to restore the “historic grounds” where about 20 trees were removed without public consultation in order to make room for a bocce court.

Opponents of the removal want to see the area replanted with appropriate trees and for the administration to select a different area for the court. The bocce court is for the Warren Italian-American Heritage Festival, which this year is moving from Courthouse Square to Perkins Park.

“During the 2019 holiday season, Warren City Administrators cut down approximately 20 trees in the nationally recognized Mahoning Avenue Historic District to install bocce courts. Warren City Council and citizens were not informed of the action until trees were felled on our public property. City workers were instructed to work on the weekend to cut trees; the city paid $3,450 to Gaumer Landscape Inc. to cut down trees that were too big for city workers to remove. No plan regarding drainage, landscape design or placement of the bocce courts has been shared with the public; without planning, we are not convinced the city’s ‘idea’ to install bocce courts will not create future problems such as flooding Women’s Park and creating hazardous situations at the amphitheater parking lot, among other unforeseen issues,” states the petition created by Melissa Holmes Phillips, a resident of the historic neighborhood and a community planner in a nearby city.

A news release from Adam Gregory, a board member of the Historic Perkins Homestead Neighborhood Association, states Mayor Doug Franklin “won’t commit to an offer by a group of historic organization representatives to relocate the proposed bocce courts to the adjacent 32-acre Perkins Park.”

The park is expected to be the new home of Warren’s Italian-American Heritage Festival, where a bocce tournament is held annually. Although the tournament traditionally was held in a bocce court on Courthouse Square, the court isn’t expected to still be used once the festival moves, and it doesn’t appear the administration considered using a portable court like other festivals use, such as Youngstown.

“Many volunteers dedicate their time and talents to keep our downtown beautiful, and we believe it is the responsibility of the city to preserve — not destroy — our historical assets. Work of volunteer organizations include the maintenance of the Rose Garden and pagoda by the Historic Perkins Homestead Neighborhood Association, Warren Heritage Center at the Kinsman House, The Upton Association’s work on Harriet Taylor Upton’s restored home and Women’s Park. The Trumbull County Historical Society maintains the John Stark Edward House and will soon restore the historic Owens Morgan House,” the petition states.

Other concerns about why the city is paying for the creation of the bocce court, instead of the festival committee, have risen.

After outrage began to surface about the removal of the trees without first consulting the public and without seeking professional design services for the proposed court — which is an area with an apparent rivulet for drainage — the remains of the trees were removed and a pause was put on the project.

Franklin told the Tribune Chronicle he is slowing the project, meeting with concerned groups and working on developing a new plan. Newly sworn-in Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert said Friday no decisions have been made, and the mayor is deliberating options and has plans to meet with the concerned groups.

But, Gregory said, the groups want more of a commitment and haven’t seen the action they hoped to see by now.

“If Mayor Franklin’s strategy is to wait for the historical organizations to tire out, that’s a mistake,” Gregory said.

The petition, which has a goal of 1,500 signatures, was created to give Warren residents a collective opportunity to share their dissatisfaction, Gregory said.

Gregory said one local man already is offering up trees to help replant the area, which offered a green backdrop to the area sought out for photo sessions because of its beauty. Jim Cicchillo, owner of Cic’s Landscaping and Greenhouse, offered to supply a minimum of five trees, Gregory said.

“My hope is that the space is designed back with the Women’s Garden in mind,” Cicchillo said.

The homestead neighborhood association is reaching out to members of the Italian-American Heritage Festival Committee, too.

“As this festival moves into our neighborhood, we’re hoping for stronger collaboration between the two organizations, so everyone benefits at the public park,” said Kyle Phillips, resident and member of the neighborhood association.

People who sign the petition have a chance to comment and the following are some of the comments received:

“This area should have never been developed. The bocce court should not be funded by the taxpayers to support a private foundation,” Paul Amos of Warren wrote.

“Warren officials should be ashamed of themselves and how this was done. No studies. No committees. No approvals. No thought. Sad these are our elected officials,” Jill Engle of Cortland said.

“I think the city should replace the trees that were cut down without consulting anyone. The trees should be mature trees with a large ball, not saplings that probably won’t survive,” Karen Stroup of Warren wrote.

“My wedding pictures were done here and my absolute favorite one has a gorgeous backdrop of trees, which are now no longer there,” Carolyn Colley of Warren said.

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