NEWBURYPORT — The Bartlet Mall Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve the second and third phases of a restoration plan for the park as well as a proposal to remove several trees.
The first phase at Bartlet Mall was approved last fall and has been set in motion. It includes improving the water quality of Frog Pond, repairing damage to its grass banks, mowing its grassy slopes to achieve a manicured appearance, clearing vegetation from the water's edge and defining a beach of sandy gravel around the pond.
The second phase includes pruning and planting trees in accordance with the park's original tree planting plan "to restore historically intended views across the pond," re-establishing the mall's "Allée of Elms," and extending the promenade to Auburn Street.
It also includes renovating and reconfiguring the park's basketball court so that it is parallel with Auburn Street, which Parks Director Lise Reid said would result in less asphalt and more permeable park surface. This also makes it easier for people playing basketball because their missed shots would be less likely to end up in the street, she said.
The third phase includes restoring the park's Swan Fountain and Taggard Fountain, positioning it closer to High and Auburn streets.
The tree removal would target the park's Norway maple trees, an invasive species that Tree Commission Treasurer Connie Preston said has been known to crowd out other trees with their wide and shallow root systems.
"Everywhere in town where you see a sidewalk kicked to pieces, there's a Norway maple standing next to it," Preston said. "There are so many in this town, and they're becoming very mature, and so they're becoming a huge safety hazard."
But not everyone was pleased with the removal of trees. City resident Walt Thompson expressed his discontent with getting rid of what he considers to be a valuable source of shade.
"We need shade trees, and you're going to replace them with trees that are going to be two inches in diameter and will take years before they can provide shade," Thompson said. "In the summertime, for those of us who walk dogs or sit, there will be no shade."
After some residents raised concerns that shorter grass would do less to filter out contaminants from Frog Pond, commission members agreed to review the first phase for any potentially harmful impacts it could have on the park's wildlife.
Newburyport Preservation Trust co-President Tom Kolterjahn spoke on the trust's behalf in support of the restoration plan.
"This is wonderful ... it can be spectacular but it needs work," Kolterjahn said. He noted that this year, the trust's Preservation Week is going to be focused on Newburyport's historic parks.
Reid said the project will be paid for through fundraising efforts and grant funding, and that the tree removal would take place during the winters of 2019 and 2020.
Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.