For now, however, the fate of the 20-year-old former municipal Christmas tree is back in the hands of the Rogersville Tree Board, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen decided last week.
In May, the Hawkins County Commission’s Buildings Committee agreed to request removal of the tree because they felt it was blocking the view of the newly renovated 177-year-old courthouse from Main Street.
The Tree Board has yet to offer a ruling, however, and Tuesday night the issue was on the agenda for the BMA to decide.
The tree was planted on the front lawn of the courthouse in the early- to mid-1990s by the Rogersville Heritage Association to serve as the town Christmas tree for tree lighting ceremonies — which have since stopped taking place.
In the city of Rogersville, anyone wishing to cut a tree located within the historic district or on public property is required to seek permission from the Tree Board. The Hawkins County Courthouse fits into both of those categories.
On Tuesday, the BMA initially heard an opinion from City Recorder Bill Lyons that the county has no foundation to make the request because the property where the tree is planted belongs to the city.
City Attorney Bill Phillips had a different opinion, however.
“I think if a tree on municipal property, or government property, is interfering with someone’s sight line, they have a right to request it be cut,” Phillips said. “The Tree Board then makes that decision. I don’t think it needs to come before the city council.”
Phillips added, “Any citizen can ask that any tree be cut on public property if that tree affects them in some way.”
Hawkins County Commissioner John Metz, who also sits on the commission’s Buildings Committee, attended Tuesday’s BMA meeting. Aside from blocking the view, Metz said commissioners were concerned that the tree creates a security problem at the courthouse, and it doesn’t fit with the aesthetics of the courthouse.
“That property is the most photographed property in the county, and it (the spruce) has not been maintained,” Metz said. “It’s a little out of hand, and I think with a little more growth it’s going to get close enough to the (Veterans Memorial) Eternal Flame that it won’t exist anyway. If we get a little dry spell it may be gone.”
Alderman Eloise Edwards said, “It’s a beautiful Christmas tree. It is big, but it is beautiful.”
The BMA agreed without a vote to send the request back to the Tree Board.