A towering oak tree that stood in a First Street median but was cut down after it became diseased will be replaced, the Solvang City Council decided Monday, although it could be 15 or 20 years before the new tree approaches the height of its predecessor.

But it also will be joined by a piece of public art that will provide an additional focal point while the young oak is maturing.

Council members unanimously agreed to plant a new oak tree at the south end of the median located between Copenhagen Drive and Oak Street and place the artwork at the north end of the median.

The plan, suggested by Mayor Jim Richardson, represented a compromise between one option of using the median only for artwork, as favored by Councilwoman Karen Waite, and another option of only replacing the oak tree, which Councilwoman Joan Jamieson preferred.

“I think that what we have here is an opportunity to present a significant piece of artwork … perhaps resembling those of famous artists over in Europe,” Waite said.

Although she seemed to favor artwork for the location, she also said she would support a monument of some type.

“Well, I miss the tree,” Jamieson said, adding, in a half-joking manner, because there is now no shade under which she can wait for a parade to begin.

Replacing the tree or using the space for public art were just two of six options presented to the council by City Manager Brad Vidro, who said a 6- to 8-foot-tall oak could be planted for around $700, while the cost of an art piece is unknown.

Another option was to plant a new coast live oak at the north end of the median and a faster-growing tree that would only get 15 feet high — he suggested a fruitless olive, catalpa or Chinese flame tree — at the south end.

“It would provide some color while the oak took its years to grow, which we anticipate would be 10 to 15 years, and then we could remove that small tree,” Vidro said. “That way it wouldn’t look as barren in that island.”

That option would cost about $900.

Vidro said there had been some discussion of installing a monument that focused on the old oak, which was more than 100 years old and had stood at that location since before the town of Solvang was founded.

Or the monument could focus on some other historical aspect of the city, which the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art could help the staff determine.

Public art or a monument would be a way to attract visitors to venture southward on First Street.

“Merchants in this location have long complained about the limited number of pedestrians coming south from Copenhagen Drive corridor,” Vidro said in a report to the council.

Yet another option was to use the median for the city’s Community Christmas Tree. Vidro noted that many years ago, the tree was placed in a “sleeve” in the middle of the First and Copenhagen intersection, and a similar sleeve could be installed in the island.

However, electric service would have to be installed to the site at an unknown cost to provide lighting for the tree.

The sixth option was to pave over the island, which would allow the addition of four parking spaces where currently no parking is allowed because of the narrow traffic lane between the median and the curbs on either side.

That option would cost about $6,000, Vidro said.

Jamieson said she favored planting just the oak tree without adding some other variety, and she expressed the opinion the city could get a tree larger than 6 to 8 feet for $700.

She made that a motion, and Councilman Ryan Toussaint seconded, but before a vote was taken, Councilman Neill Zimmerman asked if water was available at the site.

Vidro said the median doesn’t have an irrigation system, but the city has a water tender used to irrigate other areas without sprinklers.

“Oaks don’t take much water,” Jamieson noted.

That’s when Richardson suggested the compromise.

“My thoughts were, if you plant an oak tree towards the rear of the island, and put some loaner art, maybe a 10-year loaner art, in front of it until the tree grows up and then we can remove the art, or we could make it permanent art in front of it, just rather than have two trees planted there,” he said.

“I like that idea,” Zimmerman said. “Can we squeeze a parking space out of it, too?”

Vidro said the staff would like direction whether to pursue obtaining artwork that already exists or have the council design artwork or use some other selection process, and Richardson suggested holding a contest.

“It would be even better if someone donated a piece of art, and I have an idea of somebody who might do that,” Jamieson said.

“Is it art we’ll all like?” Richardson asked.

“Oh, yes,” she responded. “Definitely.”

Vidro said the staff can move forward on planting an oak while coming up with a process for procuring an art piece to be installed later.

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Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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