04 Aug Moving of tree honoring 9/11 pilot debated – News – fosters…
PORTSMOUTH — A dispute over a plan to move a tree planted to honor a city man who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has become part of the controversy over the redevelopment of the McIntyre federal building property.
Marcy Street resident Danielle Lee told the City Council during public hearing this week that an architect working with Redgate/Kane — the city’s private partners on the redevelopment of the site — stated they planned to “relocate” the tree to a nearby planter.
The architect said the plans call for moving the tree to create a grass-covered area off Daniel Street, according to Lee.
That plan, Lee said “epitomizes what this entire project has been lacking: a general lack of overall sensitivity.”
A plaque hangs from the roughly 35-foot tall tree that stands in front of the post office at the McIntyre federal building.
The tree was planted to honor Portsmouth resident Tom McGuinness, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, which terrorists hijacked and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The gold plaque attached to the tree reads: “In Memory of Tom McGuinness. We will never forget. 9-11-01. Joshua 24:15.”
The Biblical scripture reads in part “but if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
During a visit there Thursday, a gentle wind blew a small American flag that hung next to the plaque.
Lee referenced the plaque and the words “we will never forget” during her appearance at Wednesday night’s council meeting.
“It seems to me though that we have,” Lee said.
She described the tree as a red maple, which she said is “healthy and in good condition.”
“It should not be dug up and ‘relocated to a planter’ because to do so could kill it,” Lee said.
She spoke to an arborist who told her it’s always better not to move a tree.
Lee said the fallen pilot’s widow, Cheryl McGuinness Hutchins, planted the tree one year after McGuinness was killed in the terrorist attacks.
Lee imagines, she said, that McGuinness Hutchins likely believed “the downtown post office would always be there.”
“She probably believed Tom’s tree would always be safe there,” said Lee, a U.S. Air Force veteran.
“Do the right thing with this, don’t dig up Tom’s tree,” Lee said.
The crowd that packed City Hall Wednesday listened quietly as Lee spoke.
McGuinness Hutchins could not be reached for comment for this story.
Michael Kane is the president and chief executive officer of The Kane Company.
Reached Thursday, Kane stated the development team takes “memorials like that very seriously.”
“We are going to do everything in our power to make sure nothing happens to that tree,” Kane said. “We have every intention of keeping that tree where it is.”
Lee is also a member of Revisit McIntyre, a grassroots group in the city that opposes the Redgate/Kane development plan for the 2.1 acre downtown site.
The city is working to redevelop the property through the Historic Monument Program.
If its application is approved by the National Park Service, which administers the program, Portsmouth can get the property for free from the General Services Administration, which owns it.
Under the terms of the deal, the city must retain the federal building, which is located in the heart of downtown.
Redgate/Kane’s plan calls for building two new mixed-use buildings with commercial and retail on the first floor, and 76 high-end apartments above.
Mayor Jack Blalock visited the tree Thursday and called it “beautiful.”
He thanked Lee for alerting the City Council to the planned move of the memorial tree,
Blalock said he would “rely on arborists” to determine if the tree honoring McGuinness could be safely moved.
But he added “I do think it’s important to honor his (McGuinness’) memory. I think it would be important to keep it there.”
“I’m glad she brought it up,” the mayor said about Lee.
City Councilor Josh Denton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, believes the developer’s initial plan to move the tree “could be revisited.”
“It was very emotional what she said and I need to go see the tree myself,” Denton said Thursday.
But he added “that one tree is not the reason to stop the development.”
Instead, he believes developers “can figure something out for the tree” and thanked Lee for “bringing it to our attention.”