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Old Blitchton oak tree spared, temporarily
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The Bryan County Commission approved new plans brought by Gregg Parker, of Parker’s Stores, that will save a 200-year-old live oak off Hwy. 280 – at least temporarily.

The site for a new Parker’s is set in a Planned Unit Development (PUD), known as Blitchton Crossing, which was proposed by developer Ralph Cavendar in 2007. The commission originally approved Cavendar’s plans for the PUD with the tree being left alone. But in March, Parker presented plans that would result in the tree being cut down.

Tuesday, Parker went before the commission for a second time with new plans.

"Looking at the site, I changed my mind. I’m trying to be circumspect – this isn’t saving me money – this is a decision that I’m making because I think it’s the right thing to do…I’m doing this out of posterity," he said. "We’ve looked at the Georgia Department of Transportation standards and we are meeting them."

Parker presented letters of approval on his behalf, including one from Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation President Wendy Bolton, who said the tree, along with two other live oaks across the street, "form a beautiful canopy that would be destroyed with this removal."

Commissioner Blondean Newman agreed the canopy is beautiful, but said the safety issue of the tree’s proximity to the road, and the proposed entranceway location for Parker’s, had to be considered.

County Administrator Phil Jones described the tree as a "safety impediment," noting it is four feet from the pavement of Hwy. 280 and has been hit several times over the years.

Parker said he knew it was a tough decision and Commissioner Ed Bacon said they had already approved a plan that left the tree out of the development. Bacon was the only commissioner who voted against passing the motion for the new plans Parker presented.

"You caused the problem with the oak tree," Bacon told Parker. "We have no reason to even vote on this. We already voted on your request two months ago. This plan is unsafe. We made the right decision to start with."

The state DOT has slated the widening of that area of Hwy. 280 to four lanes in 2010 and, at that time, the plans call for taking down the tree. Parker contested that this might not happen for much longer than that and proposed the widening to be done on the other side of the road only, leaving the tree alone.

A representative from DOT, Access Management Engineer Korey Murray, said there is a possibility some changes could take place in the plans for the Hwy. 280 project, but according to current plans, the tree will be removed when the road widening occurs.

After tossing around several different ideas, Commissioner Rick Gardner made the motion to withdraw the previously approved plan. He followed up with a second motion to approve the new plan presented on Tuesday, which will leave the live oak in place.

"I’d ask Mr. Parker, given that we’ve tried desperately to work within your requests, all changing as they seem to be, that you take that and go to DOT to use your influence to try and get the road bed moved over enough so the tree can continue to be saved," Gardner said, also recommending the county petition the state to lower the speed limit on Hwy. 280 in the area of the intersection, in the hopes of making it safer.

Commissioner Toby Roberts also asked Parker to "exhibit the same enthusiasm to the powers of the state to get this realigned and engineering done to save this and the other two trees."

Parker said he will do so and additionally agreed to look into putting a guardrail around the tree.

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