Andrew Dys

York panel votes to save courthouse tree after citizen uproar

The scoreboard was clear. York’s Christmas tree one, York County zero.

York’s Christmas tree is saved.

“The tree won,” stated York Mayor Eddie Lee.

The people of York who love their most famous tree won, too.

For now.

At a packed hearing Monday night, the city of York’s board of architectural review that decides on changes to buildings and landscaping in the historic district unanimously voted to deny York County’s request to cut down the most famous tree in York County.

The tree sits at the corner of Liberty and Congress streets in downtown York on the York County Courthouse property.

Since at least World War II, the tree has been York’s Christmas tree, and has grown to a majestic height where it towers over the courthouse.

But county officials said they were told by an arborist the tree stopped growing, and presents a safety, aesthetic and financial problem from moisture damage.

Board member Marty Mathis spoke passionately for keeping the tree, saying she had a “flood of people” come to see her wanting to keep the historic tree.

The Herald reported July 24 the county wanted to cut the tree down – and reaction was swift to save the tree.

Mathis said in the meeting Monday night the county’s reasons for wanting to cut down York’s history were plainly “not good enough.”

“The tree is not dying,” Mathis said to County Manager Bill Shanahan, describing the reaction to cutting down the tree as a “backlash” from outraged residents and business owners. “This tree is alive ... in my opinion it is not warranted. ...You are trying to cut down history.”

Tree lovers and people who love York’s history balked at any notion that the tree is going to die.

Board member Dianne Hanlon said that a forester looked at the tree and found it healthy, and the city’s own rules for the architectural board require property owners to keep historic trees – even property owners such as York County.

After the meeting those who want the save the tree were thankful.

Berta Page, who described herself as a “tree hugger,” said that a decision to cut down such a tree is irreversible.

“If we cut that tree down, a tree so majestic, shame on us,” Page said.

However, the battle is not over. York County has 30 days to appeal the ruling and file a lawsuit against the city if the county chooses to do so, because the architectural review board is a city public body. An appeal would require a civil lawsuit – county versus city.

Shanahan said after the meeting that “at this point, York County will honor the decision,” made by York’s architectural review board Monday night, but no final decision on any potential appeal has yet been made.

For now, York’s Christmas tree has avoided the chopping block.

“Hallelujah,” said York resident Elizabeth Ann Inman as she walked out of the meeting. “That is our tree.”

Monday night, the people of York and the tree of York both won.