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Timber!

City officials OK removal of mesquite tree at firehouse because it blocked view of billboard.

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The city of Tucson did a little tree-trimming just before Christmas this year. In this case, though, officials weren't decorating a festive evergreen. They were giving a green light to Clear Channel Communications to cut down a mature mesquite next to Fire Station No. 5--because the tree had grown high enough to obscure the view of a neighboring billboard.

The tree, planted more than two decades ago at the fire station, on Grant Road east of Tucson Boulevard, had been the subject of strife between the city and a billboard company in the past, according to horticulturist Jack Kelly, a member of the city's Landscape Advisory Committee.

Kelly recalls frequent battles in the mid-'90s with the outdoor advertising company, which repeatedly sent workers onto city property to cut back the top of the tree whenever it grew large enough to block the view of the billboard. City officials eventually ordered a halt to the trimming activity.

The billboard, which measures 14 feet by 48 feet, is higher than the 30-foot limit allowed under city code and is part of ongoing litigation regarding billboard removal within the city limits. It was built in 1984, after the tree had been planted.

The mesquite has been replaced with a small leatherleaf acacia, a slow-growing tree that will reach 12 to 15 feet at maturity.

"I would like to see the acacia replaced with as large as possible a mesquite and a strong letter sent to Clear Channel telling them to keep their hands (and saws) off of trees on city property," says Kelly.

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