At the Nov. 5 Belleville City Council meeting, Ruth Bleeker asked for help in getting a lighted Christmas tree erected in the traffic island at Five Points this season, the way they used to do it 60 or more years ago in Belleville.
Bleeker said she is donating a temporary tree to erect, about 20 feet tall, and has located a volunteer to erect and stabilize the tree and put solar lights on it. She would replace any flower bulbs disturbed by the stabilization work.
Bleeker said recently she went to the Downtown Development Authority to seek help with the tree idea and the DDA told her to come to the city council.
He said he talked to Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara, who she said is in support of her project, and McNamara sent out four men to see if the tree would cause a visual safety problem and they said it wouldn’t.
Five Points is owned by Wayne County.
Bleeker said Miss Dig has been out and found there was no problem.
“It’s shovel ready,” Bleeker said.
She reported that last year she started too late in the season, so she’s been working out the details for over a year and a half.
“I think I have all my ducks in line,” Bleeker said.
She said she is asking the DPW to help decorate and then remove the tree at the end of the season.
Councilman Jack Loria asked how much it would cost the city and Bleeker replied, “Zero.”
She said Mr. Ackron on Lohr Road will provide the 20-25’ tree and the company stabilizing the tree has been doing such projects for 20 years.
“Everything is volunteered,” she said. “There is no cost.”
Bleeker noted she had a letter from McNamara with 100% approval.
Mayor Kerreen Conley said that the letter doesn’t give approval and Bleeker would have to go through the county permits’ department.
Bleeker said McNamara told her that his letter would be all she needed.
Councilwoman Kim Tindall said she has a fundamental problem with the council “blessing a tree.” She said not everyone in the city “celebrates or believes in Christmas.”
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Councilman Tom Smith. “It used to be there.”
DPW Director Keith Boc said it’s never been there as long as he’s been in the city.
“It’s a generational thing,” said Bleeker. “You’re all of a different generation.” She said her son is 61 years old and she remembers bringing him to 5 Points to see the tree.
Bleeker was ready for Tindall’s remarks and read a long memo on Christmas trees and the law and how privately sponsored trees are permissible under the Free Speech clause.
Mayor Conley said Bleeker is asking the city to remove the tree and remove the lights and she asked if the DPW had the time for that or a cherry picker for the work. Boc said they didn’t have either.
Mayor Conley said it was all predicated on getting Wayne County’s permission.
“I would like our acting police chief to look at it from a safety standpoint,” Mayor Conley said.
Mayor Conley said if Bleeker can’t get a permit from Wayne County, the tree could be put elsewhere on that corner or at Victory Park.
Bleeker got directions to the permit department on Howe Road and Michigan Avenue in Wayne and then read the letter from McNamara, except for the last part that she said were complimentary comments to her.
“He doesn’t have permitting power,” Mayor Conley said of McNamara.
Conley told Bleeker that she can work with the city administration on her project, if the council doesn’t have a problem, and work out the logistics with the administration.
Bleeker said she talked to the Davenports and they said, “You take care of the rest, we’ll get it up.”
Bleeker said she was doing this not only to beautify the city, but to put something there for the children to enjoy.
Tom Fielder suggested Bleeker talk to Commissioner McNamara and maybe he would help guide her through the permit process.
Mayor Conley called Bleeker’s project, “a very nice gesture. You may walk away with a little bit of frustration … if you start with the permits office, we can help you work it out.”
City Manager Diana Kollmeyer said the city administration has concerns about having a big Christmas tree at an already confusing intersection.
Mayor Conley said Victory Station is an alternative and Kollmeyer said at the gateway sign has been suggested, as well.
“I think it would look nice,” Mayor Conley said of a big Christmas tree.