BERLIN – String lights are expected to return to the trees along Main Street in downtown Berlin following a decision by elected officials this week.
On Monday, the Berlin Town Council voted 3-2 to return string lights to the trees in Main Street’s commercial center. Council members said they preferred the string lights to the uplighting currently in place.
“I don’t think the uplighting has the impact we’re looking for,” Councilman Jay Knerr said.
Knerr brought up the issue of lighting at Monday’s regular council meeting. He said he preferred the string lights that were previously in the downtown trees rather than the uplighting now in place. Several merchants advised him they felt the same way.
“They like the old-world charm of the in-tree lights and would prefer us to move in that direction,” he said.
Mayor Zack Tyndall, who had staff remove the string lights last year, said the current uplighting could be augmented with holiday lights during the winter.
“Keeping the tree lights in that stay in the tree year-round presented complications when the strands started to no longer work and also with maintenance associated with the tree,” he said. “It is rather cumbersome to take those down and trim if they’re kept up year-round.”
Tim Lawrence, the town’s electric utility director, said string lights weren’t designed to be left up all year and so had deteriorated over time.
“The wind blows the branches around, rips the wires in half,” he said. “We’re up there splicing the wire midspan just trying to piece it together to keep going.”
Councilman Troy Purnell said the in-tree lighting, particularly in front of Stevenson United Methodist Church, had been a hallmark of Berlin.
“I was not in favor of them coming down to start with,” he said. “I had no knowledge of it. I don’t like what’s installed.”
Purnell said everyone he’d talked to preferred the in-tree lights.
Tyndall said the town should try to move forward with what it had.
“It’s how can we move in a direction that allows us to light the trees, to make it look nice, and not take away from the aesthetics of the historic streetlamps and the facades while making it so that we’re not having to spend staff time every five seconds working to fix strings that have blown out of the tree, or gone bad, or splicing things together in what could be a not so safe format,” he said.
Tyndall said he’d heard some residents say that the uplighting was dull so he’d worked with Lawrence to outfit one of the trees with two lights pointed upward rather than just one.
“The cost of the additional light is nominal,” he said.
Councilman Jack Orris said he liked the uplighting as well as the in-tree lighting and didn’t have a preference. Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols also expressed mixed feelings.
“The look of the trees lit up with the light inside, that was beautiful,” she said, adding that there was however staff time that was taken up by keeping the lights functioning.
She said residents had called her regarding the issue.
“Many of them like the ones in the trees,” she said. “Many of them don’t like the idea of not being able to see the stars with the possibility of all of the uplighting.”
Councilman Dean Burrell said citizens had also asked him when the string lights would be returned to the trees.
“Sometimes it just comes down to preference,” he said. “It was the preference of the people that I spoke to to have the lights in the trees. That is my preference also. That and the town now seems dark, it seems almost unsafe and it seems like a place that I do not want to be. The lights in the trees did not do that.”
A motion was made by Knerr, seconded by Purnell, to install string lights in the trees.
“How do you intend to plug those lights in?” Tyndall asked.
He said the electric department previously used overhead power feeds that weren’t safe and that installing additional plugs would cost more.
“That’s not a discussion for us,” Burrell said. “Jay has made a motion I think should be addressed before we take it further.”
Tyndall said there was a cost associated with the motion and he wanted the council to understand that.
“Yes you can make a motion about wanting to switch gears, you can do anything you like, but I think you should have the full cost of that in front of you to evaluate,” Tyndall said. “With that being said I’m asking, do you want to do it at any cost?”
Knerr said there was money in the budget for the project and that Lawrence could figure out logistics. The budget includes $10,000 for tree lighting.
“What I would ask, before you vote to say you want something in the trees, let us work the numbers and have a proposal to you next meeting for the cost of doing that project,” Tyndall said.
Burrell and Purnell objected, pointing out a motion and second had been made. The council voted 3-2, with Nichols and Orris opposed, to move forward with string lighting in the trees.