Construction on senior center halted after residents voice concerns about 400-year-old tree.

Updated: Jul 6


By SARA VANDEN BERGE


Note: This story has been updated following the Stephenville City Council's July 5 meeting.


When Stephenville resident Joe Carter learned that the city’s new senior center would be constructed near a 400-year-old live oak tree, he began expressing concerns about its safety to members of the city council.


“I met with a local arborist and he told me that the tree was about 400 years old,” Carter told Beneath the Surface News. “He also said the soil compaction would starve and dehydrate the tree and that it would be dead within five years.”

That was enough to convince Carter to take more action. He launched a website aimed at engaging other residents interested in saving the tree, and now city officials have halted construction.


Mayor Doug Svien and other city officials met with arborist Del Briton last week.


“We want to save the tree; it’s a legacy tree and it’s important to the community, so there are a couple of options we are looking at,” Svien said. “We can move the building site out of the ‘critical area,’ but that could be problematic with the sewer lines or we could start over on a different lot the city owns around the corner.”

Svien said the project is on hold until the council can fully consider its options and the cost of each.


“We will build a new senior center and we still hope to do it in that general area,” Svien said.


Meanwhile, Carter is still not happy.


He says there is simply not enough space at the current site to shift the building’s location out of the tree’s critical root zone to preserve it.

You can read his full blog post here.


“The tree is putting out thousands of new shoots around its base where the ground hasn’t been packed with fill dirt. That’s the tree’s way of saying, ‘Help, I can’t breathe,’” Carter said. “The city council is smothering it with the 100 plus truckloads of fill dirt they packed over the tree’s root zone.


“While the city council is dithering over what to do next, the tree is fighting for its life. Before they do anything else they need to get that dirt off and re-aerate the soil.”

OTHER CONCERNS


The safety of the tree isn’t the only cause for concern.


Briton said construction is also having a negative impact on the Bosque River Trail.


“I met with several city officials and they are studying how far they can move the pad, but are adamant on not choosing another location,” Briton said. A side consequence is that they have wrecked a section of the river trail.

They took up a lot of the sidewalk and put in a rough gravel, so no more strollers or kids bikes until something better is done.”


Longtime Stephenville resident Alisa Terrell Starbird is also voicing concern.


In a statement emailed to Beneath the Surface News, Starbird said the location is “off-the-beaten path” and will likely present navigational challenges to the senior population.

“The entire project is a disservice to our senior citizen population and to our greater community,” she said.


“I am truly distressed by the city council’s decision to locate the new Senior Citizen Center/Council Chambers building on a small, sloping piece of land which is mostly within the 100-year floodplain. This location can only be accessed via N. Vine Street, a very narrow street which is not itself a through street.


“I urge people to take a trip around the block to check out the difficulties presented by this chosen location.

“The concrete culvert along the narrow roadway of E. Mason Street already presents its own navigational challenges to two cars meeting each other


“And to add insult to injury, the Senior Citizen Center/Council Chambers will have far fewer parking spaces than the current Senior Citizen Center, and those parking spaces will be on a sloping floodplain.”


On July 5, the city council voted to send the issue back to the Parks and Leisure Committee to search for an alternate location.


The council will take up the issue again on Aug. 2.