7 On Your Side
Pawling residents to trade tree for toilets?
PAWLING, N.Y. (WABC) -- Welcome to the Village of Pawling, a town of 3,000, that's right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
At the heart of this hamlet is a 40-foot spruce.
Each year it's the star of Pawling's annual tree lighting.
"We have our tree lighting here every year, we drink hot chocolate and sing carols, and that's the beginning of the Christmas season here in Pawling," said Joan Roberts, a resident.
But now, this Rockefeller Center sized tree is about to be axed, all to make room for four public bathrooms.
"I was angry because we had this tree and it's just getting cut down for bathrooms," said Filomena Gentile, a resident.
There are no public bathrooms in the center of town.
Last summer, the village was awarded a community development grant from Dutchess County to put in handicapped accessible restrooms.
"They're telling us they had a public hearing, but no one knew about it!" Roberts said.
"They have plans, they're talking as if it's a done deal," said Bob Reilly, a resident.
Now hundreds of residents are circulating petitions to the save the tree and fear its days are numbered.
7 On Your Side spoke to Village Mayor Robert Liffland, who in the past, has done the tree lighting honors.
The mayor defended the potty project, saying it's important for economic development.
"People feel more comfortable coming into your village to do shopping knowing they have public restrooms they can use," Mayor Liffland said.
The mayor said he was willing to explore options to put the bathroom on the other side of the chamber of commerce building.
"We've been working with the chamber of commerce to figure out what we can do here so no, it's not a done deal," Mayor Liffland said.
But then, when 7 On Your Side pressed him on whether the Pawling petitioners had a chance of preserving the pine and stalling the toilet project, the mayor reversed his position.
"Do they have the power to stop it, I mean, not really," Mayor Liffland said.
It is leaving even the youngest of residents unsure about the fate of their favorite tree.
"Everyone was so excited for the tree, and why would you want bathrooms? What would happen to the tree lighting?" said Pearce Brennan, a resident.
The mayor said he will have answers at a village meeting on February 4th.
He will also listen to public comment and announce a decision that same night.
Some residents feel that since the mayor has a plumbing company that could do the work on the new bathrooms it is a conflict of interest.
But the mayor said he can't and won't put in a bid on the restroom.
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