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Big tree being removed from historic Santa Fe courtyard

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Workers on Tuesday remove part of a cottonwood tree known as \’Willy\’ that shades the the historic Sena Plaza. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Three years after refusing to allow an old tree so beloved that it has a name from being chopped down, the Santa Fe city government has decided that the big cottonwood that shades the historic Sena Plaza should come down.

One man opposed to the destruction of the tree known as Willy was hauled off by police Tuesday as workers removed huge limbs. But no information on charges or whether the man — apparently an arborist from Albuquerque — was formally arrested was available from Santa Fe police.

The owners of Sena Plaza — one of Santa Fe’s most spectacular courtyards, surrounded by businesses about a block off the Plaza — wanted to take out the tree in 2015, when a 10-foot limb fell on a table, narrowly missing a diner.

But city Land Use Department officials ruled then that the tree was healthy and didn’t present a danger to diners on the patio of La Casa Sena restaurant or others. Under city code, the department can prevent healthy “significant” trees of a certain size from being cut down.

But this year, the Land Use Department approved a request from businessman Gerald Peters’ Southwest Asset Management Inc. to take out Willy. Martin Gabaldon of the Land Use staff approved removal of the tree in a letter saying it had “provided decades of comfort and habitat” but “should be removed in order to protect life and property.”

Southwest Asset Management issued a statement Tuesday saying that “after nearly a century of providing shade and ambience in Palace Avenue’s Sena Plaza, a large cottonwood tree will be removed due to increasing occurrences of falling branches.”

“The possibility of serious injury or death dictates that the tree be removed,” the company said.

Previously, Southwest Asset Management “hired professionals to prune the tree and install cables to reduce the increasing risk of serious injury or death. However, despite constant maintenance and efforts, large branches continue to fall from the tree every year.”

An arborist’s assessment has determined that “red oak, chestnut, spruce, and smaller trees currently growing there will thrive and will create an appealing and safe space in keeping with the integrity of the historic courtyard,” the company said.

Southwest Asset Management said that before removal, the tree was to be blessed by Deacon Anthony from San Isidro Catholic Parish and Rabbi Neil Amswych from Temple Beth Shalom.

“The wood from the tree will be donated to multiple New Mexico sculptors, preserving the essence of the tree forever,” the statement said.

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