A viable option to save the centuries-old Sycamore tree at 1702 E. Sheridan St., Warsaw, may have been found and a rally has been scheduled for Saturday at the site for people to show their support for the tree.
The Sycamore - estimated to be at least 275 years old - was slated to come down this week as part of the Lincoln Neighborhood Sidewalk project. Homeowner Gita Kamdar was not aware of the tree’s fate until Monday, Oct. 16 because she said her now-ex-husband didn’t tell her about the project, but since then she has worked to try to save the tree if possible. The tree’s removal has been delayed while all options to save the Sycamore by the city and its contractors are being vetted.
Kamdar is having a rally around the tree from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. She hopes people will come and take their picture in front of the tree while enjoying popcorn and stickers. She encourages people to bring their kids.
At the Warsaw Board of Public Works and Safety meeting Tuesday, City Planner Justin Taylor and city engineer Aaron Ott provided an update on the tree and the sidewalk project, at the request of Mayor Joe Thallemer.
“There’s been a few issues along the way with several locations, as far as trees. There’s also one very prominent tree that’s been in the discussion, and I think we’ve got solutions to all of those situations or we’re looking at solutions, and I would ask Aaron and Justin to talk about some of the challenges and how we are going to overcome those,” Thallemer stated.
Taylor said they were contacted by a homeowner who was concerned about potentially losing the large Sycamore on their property.
“From day one, when we received that information, we reached out to our consultants to first halt the removal of that tree and then see what solutions were available to us at that time,” he said. “We’ve been working on potential solutions since last week, and we believe we have some viable options.”
He thanked the contractors and engineers for being flexible and helping to navigate the problem.
“We want to be sensitive to any solution that we propose. We want to be sensitive to our federal funding and make sure it still fits the specifications for our project as there are very specific guidelines that INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) has for projects like this when you’re involving federal funds,” Taylor said.
INDOT has to sign off on any changes to the sidewalk project.
“We do believe we have some viable options, so it’s looking very encouraging right now and really excited about the opportunity to potentially save that tree,” Taylor said.
The sidewalk project started about five years ago when the city received an 80/20 federal grant of $1.1 million for it through INDOT in 2018, with the project slated to be constructed in 2022, according to past Times-Union articles. However, bid issues delayed the start of the project, including bids were well over what INDOT and the city had allotted for the project, and it went out to bid for a third time in January 2023.
A June 6, 2023, article states the total cost of the project is $3,276,784, with the federal aid providing $2,620,810.80 of the cost and the local match to be $665,973.20.
The sidewalks are within the area bordered by Sheridan, Scott, Colfax and Main streets and total over 2 miles.
Speaking in general terms Tuesday, Ott said when the contractor started the job his first activity was to place stakes and markings along the right-of-way/property lines throughout the project limits “so that we could then see more clearly what kind of encroachments were in the right-of-way and which trees needed to be marked to be taken down.”
Before the stakes were placed in yards, Ott said property owners were notified what those stakes represented. “When our contractor got out and started knocking on doors and passing out flyers to inform them what that represented, a lot of assumptions had already been made that those stakes may have represented where the sidewalk was actually going to be placed on folks’ property,” he said.
Residents called, and Ott said some of them had a misunderstanding and concerns, but that gave the city an opportunity to make clarifications. He said the city explained to them that the stakes and other markings were to understand the property lines so they could then remove trees and other encroachments before the work on the sidewalks began.
The sidewalk work is only going to happen this year on Sheridan Street.
“They’re getting the trees removed from the full project limits over the rest of this week, and I believe they’re hoping to be mostly through with that, and then they may have to come back later if we found some of these that still might be in an encroachment that we weren’t able to avoid,” Ott said.
He said Sheridan Street will get the sidewalk construction starting later this week or into next week. About Thanksgiving, they will stop work, clean up Sheridan and get done what they can so it’s not left exposed. “Then they’re going to demobilize until sometime in March, is the current plan, and then come in and that’s when you’ll see full-blown heavy sidewalk construction going on along the streets.”
The focus now is Sheridan Street, including getting the matter with the large Sycamore tree resolved, Ott stated.
“It’s quite the tree,” Board member George Clemens said.
“It is quite a tree,” Ott agreed.
As far as the solution for that specific tree goes, Thallemer said if the engineering firm was looking at a solution.
Ott said they were and it was an “urgent” issue that’s in their lap right now. “We don’t want to jump the gun on sharing the details of the solution until it’s been fully vetted as a viable solution and we need to make sure our partners at INDOT agree that it’s still within the scope of the project and doesn’t exceed the scope or de-scope and not accomplish the full intent of the scope,” he said.
Ott said he believes they should have a good idea on a solution this week or early next week.
“It showed that we have a lot of very interested residents in this neighborhood. It’s an old neighborhood, a lot of people lived there many years and you can tell they’re very fond and encouraged to understand all of what is happening, which is a good thing,” he said.
Thallemer said the sidewalk project has been going on for about four years as far as from when the city received its original grant award from INDOT. The project had to be rebid a couple times “so it’s been a long, long pathway to get to this point.” He told Ott and Taylor he appreciated the work they were doing to work through the final solutions.
“I feel confident we’ll be able to make this work, but, again, as you suggest let’s wait until we get the final report back,” Thallemer said.
Ott said the residents seem to understand the goal of the project of providing nice sidewalks ultimately for children to go to and from school, but also the whole neighborhood and community get to enjoy the sidewalks.
Thallemer said the original intent of the project was to address a safety concern of children walking to and from school.
Tuesday afternoon, Fort Wayne arborist David Carpenter checked out the tree. He was paid by former Lincoln teacher Gene Butts, who used to walk his students to the tree for a class exercise. They would see how many kids it took to wrap their arms around the Sycamore, which Butts said was about six.
Based on Carpenter’s calculations, the tree’s approximate age was 336 years old. Contractors Phend & Brown Inc., according to Kamdar, estimated the tree to be at least 275 years old. Carpenter said without counting the tree’s rings, it’s hard to have a precise age for the tree. At the base, Butts measured the tree had a circumference of 22 feet, while 4.5 feet up from the base Carpenter measured the circumference at 18 feet.
Carpenter said the tree was at least twice the size as many of the Sycamore trees he has seen and was “definitely a miracle,” especially being within the city limits.
He gave it a look to see if it had any issues and how healthy it was.