trees vs signs

Brent Finnegan -- October 5th, 2007

A few of the big trees on Court Square in front of the Calhoun–er, Cally’s building are slated to come down. City council voted to remove at least two of the trees, because they’re blocking the view of the Cally’s sign and the Court Square Theater marquee.

The Harrisonburg Tree Committee advised the council against tree removal,* because they estimate that in five years the trees should be taller than the signs, providing shade for the rooftop dining area. But the businesses with signs behind the trees say that’s what they were told years ago. Several people I’ve talked to doubt the trees will ever reach the height necessary to clear the signs.

* CORRECTION: The Tree Committee was not given the opportunity to advise Council. They were still meeting on the issue and were to reconvene to make a decision on October 5, but something or someone pushed Council to make a decision without advice from the Tree Committee at the September 25 Council Meeting. This issue first went to the Tree Committee in August.

41 Responses to “trees vs signs”

  1. Ryan says:

    I will be sad to see those trees go. They added a little elegance to Court Square.

  2. kai says:

    I’ll post more later. It’s two of five trees, not all.

  3. TM says:

    From what I heard, the tree experts that council heard from said simply pruning in the necesary amount is out of the question and the trees probably wouldn’t reach the proper height. It’s all in the article but, the trees won’t go the way of Buscemi. They’ll be relocated to Liberty Park and replaced with appropriately sized shrubbery. If they did eventually clear the signs, wouldn’t they just block the view from Cally-houn’s rooftop?

  4. David Miller says:

    I just think that it’s a shame to loose trees downtown. I’d love to see Cally’s compromise and place a marque on the curb in conjunction with the theater. Win win

  5. David Troyer says:

    don’t forget about us! we (Downtown Wine & Gourmet) have a sign that is also blocked. I didn’t even know about it until all this tree cutting hullabaloo came up.

  6. John M says:

    I’m not a tree expert, but I have my doubts as to whether or not a tree of that size could be successfully transplanted. The root ball of each one of those trees is probably quite substantial and running under the sidewalk. Is the city going to pull up the sidewalk, and bring in special equipment to dig up a large enough section of each tree’s root system to ensure a successful transplant? If they do I’m sure that is quite expensive. Ultimately I think this relocation idea is at best a pipe dream, and at worse a pacifier. “Oh well, the trees died. At least we tried to move them.”

    Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to put up new signage for each of the effected businesses? I like Dave’s idea of a sidewalk marquee until the trees grow a bit taller. Or possibly even use the “useless tower” structure next to Court Square to host the new signage?

    I would like to know more about what the Tree Committee learned and reccomended. There has to be a reason that they were against this course of action, and I would like to know why. Does anyone have more information regarding that piece of the puzzle?

    Really I’m not against cutting down or relocating trees in most cases, but these really add something to the overall feel of Court Square, and it is going to be very dissapointing to see them replaced with much smaller and less shady shrubs.

  7. Justin says:

    The tree experts are right. It would be sad to lose any of the trees downtown.

  8. Wonder who I would need to talk to to have trees in front of my building. The city? I would do it in a heartbeat.

  9. linz says:

    Move the signs, not the trees. Save the trees!!! What a silly reason to take them down after they’ve been there so long. Also, there isn’t much other vegetation around there to help filter out the fumes from the constant stop-and-go traffic in that corridor. Are any of those businesses really hurting because of the trees? Possibly CST I guess, but really, couldn’t they just do a cool bump-out marquee to fit the older style of the theater?

  10. David Troyer says:

    I think the sidewalk marquee sounds great, and would actually be more readily seen than the signs which are a good 12 feet off the ground.

    I would love for the trees to stay, but as manager of one of the businesses (the only one currently with zero signage), I cringe when at least once a day a Cally’s regular comes in and says they had no idea we were there.

  11. Del Marvel says:

    I cringe when at least once a day a Cally’s regular comes in and says they had no idea we were there.I can sympathize. It’s hard to raise awareness even with good signs. We humans can be amazingly oblivious. Can you put some kind of sign in the hall in front of Cally’s, near the sign for the theater?

  12. David Miller says:

    I know the feeling. I’m on Main Street, I have four front facing windows, one sign extending out from my store, one huge sign on the side of the building, I put out a sidewalk sign every day and a little paint pallette that says You Made It, Paint Your Own Pottery on it and a seasonally themed flag to grab peoples attention; every day I get the “how long have you been here, i had no idea”, my reply- four and a half years. Frustrating , and I have zero tree frontage interfering.

  13. John M says:

    Leah Rosenwasser and I are going to try to get the city to consider using the funds they have allocated for the tree “relocation” project, to instead help provide the businesses visible signage until the trees are old enough to be properly pruned away from the current signage.

    If anyone has any ideas, or would like to help please contact us – savehburgtrees at gmail dot com.

    The more people we can get involved, the better.

  14. Jared says:

    I’ve been brought into this conversation a bit through my dealings with downtown as the Stream Health Coordinator. To answer a few of the questions and comments related to this issue: The tree committee decided against pruning, or removing the trees for a number of reasons- but the two big factors are that given time, the trees can be limbed up enough to provide good visibility to the front of the building, and signs there. The other big issue was thinking about the precedent this would cause- signs winning out over trees. Especially in the downtown, where we’re trying to make it as pedestrian friendly as possible, having shade from those trees is an incredible gift.
    I understand the position of the merchants in the building, especially that Cally’s has been asking about those trees for several years now. The Downtown Renaissance Design committee looked at the trees there as well, and a number of ideas for sign relocation came up. They suggested having “Cally’s” on all the window awnings, a bigger vertical sign on the corner of the building, and additional signage for Downtown Wine and Gourmet on the front of the building at eye level. The North face of that building is completely void of any signs for the buildings inhabitants as well.
    Long story short- if we can design creative signs (and perhaps help the businesses pay for them) that USE the trees as an asset to the building, we can get away from the mentality that they’re ‘in the way’. I encourage everyone to write to the city council members, but also as importantly talk to Cally’s, Court Square Theatre, and Downtown Wine and Gourmet about your desire to keep the trees!

  15. Karl Magenhofer says:

    Sidewalk marquee’s, really? As you drive around court square do you look down at the sidewalk for signage? As you travel anywhere do you look down for signage? That idea seems as crazy as successfully transplanting those trees. Something that should be done is more landscaping around the courthouse. I’m sure there are security concerns, but something could be done at the courthouse that would really beautify the court square area.

  16. Emmy says:

    If you are going around Court Square at the speed that you should be going, then a simple sandwich board sign with the business name should work nicely until the trees grow above the sign. It would certainly help with people who are walking through downtown as well.

  17. whackette says:

    I would think that a sidewalk sign would be be closer to eye level when driving a vehicle. When I drive around court square, I’m looking at the road and sidewalks because that is where other vehicles are and also where pedestrians are– the two most likely things to get in my way. I am not looking up in the air.

  18. Karl Magenhofer says:

    Not looking in the air? Do you miss the road signs and traffic signals that are as high as they are? Yikes.

    Emmy, you know I am never going anywhere at the speed I should be. Perhaps if I did I would better understand the merits of a marquee on the sidewalk. I’m just thinking of parked cars, other vehicles beside you, people on the sidewalk and other factors that would make it difficult to see those signs. It is good for pedestrians, but I think vehicular traffic would be more important and a bigger audience.

  19. whackette says:

    I don’t consider road signs to be up in the air.

  20. John M says:

    Leah & I have started an online petition to ask the council members to reconsider their decision to relocate the trees. If you would like to show your support, please sign the petition at

    I’m not sure if that link will work on this blog, if it doesn’t please e-mail us: savehburgtrees at gmail dot com.

  21. John M says:

    Sorry the link above doesn’t work – this link should work a little better:

    Please feel free to pass this link on to anyone and everyone you feel may have an interest in stopping the trees from being relocated.

    Also, I plan to be at the council meeting tomorrow (Tuesday 10/9 @ 7pm) to speak out against the relocation plans. If anyone would like to come and speak, or just show your support by being there, please do.

    The more I think about public funds being used to remove trees at the request of a private business the more upset I am with the situation. I still feel it is a horrible idea to allow this to happen mainly because it is very possible that this will lead to other businesses requesting similar services throughout the city. If we move these trees for one private business, we will have to move others for any business that requests such a service. Just looking around Court Square there are several businesses whose signage is partially blocked by trees, will they request their trees removed as well?

  22. Jared says:

    I just wanted to make a quick comment/suggestion that in writing to council, or the merchants in the building, stick to your personal opinions and the facts. I’ve heard that there are some scathing personal attacks on council flying around out there, and that definitely doesn’t help the situation. Come out to the city council meeting Tuesday night, they’ll be discussing the trees again.

  23. David Troyer says:

    If we move these trees for one private business, we will have to move others for any business that requests such a service. -John M

    actually, there are three businesses whose signage is blocked. that said, as manager of one of them I would much rather see better sidewalk signage instead of two of the five trees being taken down.

  24. Thanh says:

    There’s a story in the DNR today about the Court Square Trees –

  25. John M says:


    I realize there are three businesses involved in the request for removing these trees, but I feel the same logic still applies. I should have probably phrased my last commnet more along the lines of : If we start using public funds to remove trees at the request of private businesses at, it could start a “slippery slope” situation. I just don’t think it is a good precedent to set.

    Alternative signage seems like a much wiser choice than removing the trees.

  26. Reaganite says:

    Put me down as a keep the trees guy. How tall were the trees when the late, lamented Calhoun’s (meaning the old name, not the old restaurant) first occupied the space and put up its first sign? Did the trees in summer obscure the signage then? And, how will we measure the effects of any tree removal? If Cally’s business goes up 1%, was the move worth it? If it goes down 5%, will there be a push to get the trees back? Will the city pay for that too? You know, the trees block my signage too, but people keep finding my office. And, those in the office keep finding Cally’s and the wine shop (the wives might say we find both all too often!).

  27. The Yankees Lost!! says:

    You know, I think the stop sign next to my building is blocking people’s view of my business sign….and I don’t like the placement of the “speed bump” sign across the street…and the telephone pole is ugly…who do I need to call to get them moved?

  28. John M says:

    I just spoke with Michael Wong, he is the Executive Director of HRHA. He told me that the unusual,seemingly useless, tower building next to Court Square Theater and Calhouns actually did have a use at one point. It was intended to be an entrance way/marquee for Court Square Theater. Personally, I would like to see it possibly used for that again instead of relocating the trees in front of the building. He also told me that Mike Comfort (owner of Cally’s) is part of the LLC that owns that structure today. Wouldn’t it make sense to migrate signage to a building that is already owned by one of the business owners?

    There has to be some part of the puzzle that I’m missing here. If anyone knows what it is, please tell me.

  29. Lowell Fulk says:

    My vote is to keep the trees. I didn’t even know it was a problem. The trees add much to the Court Square area.

    Why don’t you set up an online poll where your readers could register their opinion? Poltiticians just love polls. ;o)

  30. Lowell Fulk says:


  31. finnegan says:


    I assume you’re referring to this?

    It was built as part of the space for the farmers market at the time. Might as well use it for something, well, useful.

  32. John M says:


    That’s the building.

  33. John M says:


    I just wanted to give everyone a heads up about the Court Square Trees issue. Last night the council members decided to “table” the tree removal until next council meeting (two weeks). They also formed a committee made up of Councilman Chenault, Kurt Hodgen – City Manager, Stacy Turner – Director Planning and Community Development (Member of the Tree Board), Eddie Bumbaugh – Downtown Renaissance, and representatives from each of the three businesses. The goal of the committee is to find an alternative to tree relocation. After two weeks the committee must return to council with some kind of solution to this issue. Charlie Chenault stated that he was going to save the trees, so I am fairly confident that they are going to stay put. However, that is not set in stone, and things can change. If this committee can’t find an acceptable alternative the trees may still be removed.

    Thus, in the next two weeks there is still quite a bit of planning and things to do regarding this issue. First and foremost, the committee is looking for ideas. If anyone has any ideas regarding alternative signage please send them to Mr. Chenault, or if you prefer you can send them to me, and I’ll make sure they get to the right place.

    Also, if anyone knows a sign company that may be up for some free publicity in return for some discounted signs definitely pass that on as well.

    Thanks for all of you help, I’ll try to keep you all updated as best I can.

    savehburgtrees at gmail dot com

  34. David Troyer says:

    I really hope this doesn’t get messy.

  35. Thanh says:

    There is a lot of evidence out there that says trees are good for good for downtown areas, gives people a sense of belonging, good for businesses because people value neighborhoods and business districts with trees (the neighborhood looks like its being taken care of), is good for the environment (stormwater management, energy savings by shade and wind breaking, air quality)… I could go on. Here are a few links to some studies and factsheets that may be of interest.

    – Trees: A Prospectus, A Solid Green Investment –

    – Trees in Business Districts: Comparing Values of Consumers and Business –

    – Business Districts, Streetscapes, Trees and Consumer Response –

    – The Value of the Urban Forest –

    I personally love all the trees downtown, and I hope that the coming streetscape projects preserves the existing trees. As a bicyclist and a frequent pedestrian to various places of business, I find myself spending more time outside browsing shops, sitting down to enjoy a coffee, where there are trees. Just thought I’d share.

  36. Benny Neal says:

    …Could’nt the city just trim the trees and leave them there? That would be a compromise.

  37. John M says:


    I wish it were that simple. All of the tree experts I spoke with, and whose opinions I have read, say that the trees will be able to be trimmed in the future, but that they are too young to trim at this point. The drastic “limbing” and trimming that would need to take place for the current signs to be visible would likely kill the trees. If it didn’t kill them they would be more prone to week limbs and other problems in the future. Unfortunately everyone I spoke with gave me a different time frame for how long it will be before they can be “limbed up”, the shortest estimates I have heard are 5 years, the longest being 15.

    Everyone I spoke with also expressed opinions that these were excellent urban trees, and should be kept. Kathy Holm, a member of the tree advisory committee, provided me with this quote regarding the trees:

    “The trees look remarkably healthy and are both younger and smaller than I had recalled. I think that they contribute significantly to the impression that Court Square is a green space in the heart of downtown. I would not say that the building they front and partially conceal is architecturally noteworthy. The trees currently distance the building and its entrance from the street edge. Were the two trees nearest the entrance removed, I fear that the entrance would seem closer to the street – uncomfortably so.” – Arthur Bartenstein, landscape architect with Frazier Associates

    To learn more about them follow this link:

    (Notice that section under trunk and branches, it is my understanding that breakage and weaker wood is much more common in trees that are not pruned properly, i.e too early.)

    After reading about their characteristics I’m really considering planting at least one in my backyard. Lots of shade, fast growth, resistant to pests, no fruit or nuts to contend with when mowing the lawn…

    I hope that answered your question Benny, sorry about the length of my response.


  38. republitarian says:

    How bout if we go 50/50…. cut one down and leave the other.

Reader Tweets

Latest Flickr photos in the hburgnews Flickr pool
Announcements & Press Releases
  • Friendly City Grand Opening Set for July 9

    Friendly City Food Co-Op, Harrisonburg’s consumer-owned grocery, invites the community to come see its new destination for natural, organic and locally-produced products at the store’s grand opening 11 a.m.-5 p.m. July 9 at 150 East Wolfe Street.

  • Friendly City Becomes Member of National Cooperative Grocers Association

    HARRISONBURG, VA — Friendly City Food Co-op, slated to open this month in Harrisonburg, Va., has become the newest member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative serving 120 consumer-owned food co-ops nationwide.

  • Harrisonburg Recognized as a Bike Friendly Community

    May 2: Harrisonburg was honored when the League of American Bicyclists announced the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designations over the weekend to kick off May as National Bike Month.