THE contentious lagunaria patersonii trees in Naracoorte's CBD will stay - for now.
But while the six trees won a short-term reprieve at Naracoorte Lucindale Council's December meeting, their future will now be assessed by the council's botanical working group.
The trees - known by their detractors as "itchy pod" trees - have been the subject of intense public debate in recent months after neighbouring business owners renewed calls to have them removed.
The council had in 2009 done public consultation on the issue, but found an overwhelming majority of respondents wanted the trees retained.
Public consultation was completed for a second time last month, and this time it was a similar result with only four of 22 written responses in favour of removing the trees.
Explaining the view of business owners in a recent letter to the Herald, former Jetset Travel owner Graeme Wight said: "It's the health and well-being of the many shop owners, staff and community members that frequent the shops and footpath on both sides of Smith St.
"The small hook-like fibres/pollen that fall from these trees, blow around, get breathed in, finish in rainwater tanks and air-conditioners is a big problem."
Some councillors wanted to make a definitive decision on the issue at the December meeting - to remove the trees or keep them - but others wanted more information before condemning them or otherwise.
Director of operations and technical services Phil Burton presented a written recommendation that the trees be retained but that they be heavily pruned, additional footpath sweeping be done and the trees be progressively replaced with another type as they reach the end of their useful life.
But the recommendation was never voted on.
After a lengthy debate, Cr John Flynn instead moved a motion to ask the council's botanical working group to prepare a strategic replacement program for trees in Naracoorte's CBD and make a list of significant trees in the town.
The motion divided councillors down the middle. Four voted in favour, and four against, with Cr Brett Armfield standing aside from the debate after declaring a conflict of interest as a neighbouring business owner.
With the casting vote, mayor Erika Vickery voted in favour of the motion to send the issue to the working party, adding "but only because I want some more information".
The outcome clearly disappointed some councillors, with Cr Craig McGuire believing a decision should have been made on the trees then and there. "I just think we need to make a decision now mayor, this has been going on for years," he said.
"Everybody is going to have an opinion, it's going to make a difficult decision even more cloudy (asking the working group to get involved).
"I believe this motion should be defeated or passed. If it goes to this group it will be just going around in circles.
"I just feel like we're putting off a decision."
When the motion was successful, Cr Flynn asked for a division, which revealed that he and Crs Ken Schultz, Damien Ross and Toby Robinson - and mayor Mrs Vickery - voted in favour of the botanical working group getting involved.
Crs McGuire, Banning, Malcolm McLean and Trevor Rayner voted against.
Earlier in the debate, councillors argued for and against the removal of the trees in equal measure.
Cr Banning felt they should go. "In the long-term interests of the community I think we should look at removing those trees, they're not a suitable tree for that situation," he said.
Also, because of their close proximity to several businesses, those who worked and did business there had no opportunity to avoid them if they had health issues.
Cr Schultz said he would like to see the trees removed - "there is a problem with them" - but they should be replaced after summer when shade wasn't needed.
Cr Ross said there was obviously a strong feeling from business owners that the trees were causing problems and their concerns needed to be taken into account.
Cr McLean: "They're not an appropriate tree, they just grow too big. Take a few out at a time, lessen the shock - that's what people would be worried about, staring at bare concrete."
Cr Robinson said the council needed a "hard and fast tree plan" which took into consideration the health of trees.
Pointing to Mr Burton's recommendation that the trees be retained but the other measures be introduced, Cr Ross said he wanted more definite information about how heavy the pruning would be, what trees would be planted in their place, and when they would be removed.
Cr Flynn agreed more information would be helpful, but generally felt mature trees should be retained where possible.
"One of the characteristics of Naracoorte is very few mature trees," he said.
"If they're a health risk, they should be removed, but I don't think we should start replacing them helter-skelter.
"A lot of people in town have a historical link to the trees and I don't think you can dismiss that out of hand."
Cr McGuire was clear in his view: "These trees make Naracoorte the town it is. I don't think any tree should come out unless it's unhealthy.
"I don't believe they should come out because someone says they've got an itchy nose.
"Why should we spend thousands of dollars digging them out when they're perfectly healthy?"
A timeline hasn't been set on when the botanical working group will start to prepare the strategic replacement program.