After more than five years of periodic discussions, Canton City Council is set to vote Monday on an ordinance that would more strictly regulate the removal, pruning and planting of trees. Council meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall at 218 Cleveland Ave. SW.
Patricia Kirk has committed oodles of hours to championing the need to care for trees properly and plant them in the right places.
More than five years ago, Kirk first drew attention to the issue. Since then, Kirk, who lives in downtown Canton, has attended City Council meetings regularly, imploring the city to update and strengthen its tree ordinance.
“It brings us closer to the many Ohio cities that have had active tree ordinances and tree committees for years,” Kirk said of tree-related legislation that City Council is scheduled to vote on Monday night.
The long legislative road she’s traveled has led to numerous drafts and revisions to the ordinance. As council members and city officials have changed, interest in the tree ordinance has fluctuated.
At one point, concerns about the cost of fully implementing the ordinance stalled the legislation, which includes the creation of a five-member tree commission to oversee the regulations. But Kirk never gave up, regularly attending meetings and urging council to proceed with the expanded tree regulations.
Kirk hopes her efforts culminate at Monday’s council meeting with passage of the tree ordinance. Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall at 218 Cleveland Ave. SW.
The city has an existing tree ordinance, but the proposed amendment would more strictly and more comprehensively regulate trees.
‘MORE COMFORTABLE COMMUNITY’
Council President Allen Schulman called the tree regulations the most important environmental legislation council has considered since establishing the curbside recycling program.
Law Director Joseph Martuccio said Thursday he was tweaking some portions of the draft legislation to address questions raised by council.
Proper tree care and oversight has multiple benefits, Kirk said.
“It’s a way of saving money for Canton because trees are used in flood control, noise and pollution control, (to) save energy and foster the reduction of crime,” she said.
“It creates a more comfortable community,” Kirk said. “One that enjoys being outdoors and gets to know their neighbors for instance.”
The draft tree ordinance boils down like this:
“Canton City Council has determined that it is in the interest of the residents of the city to promote and protect their health, safety and welfare by adopting a comprehensive tree plan for the proper planting of new and replacement trees and maintaining the health and safety of existing trees within the city’s urban forest, including the public right-of-way and the city park system.”
The ordinance is aimed at safety issues, but also enhancing property values, achieving design and environmental goals of the city, and reducing noise, air pollution and flooding while improving quality of life in the city.
Due to limited resources, enforcement of the ordinance would be complaint driven, Martuccio said. A tree planting mechanism is not incorporated into the legislation. Martuccio, however, said the city could seek grants to support such a program.
Page 2 of 3 - TREE REGULATIONS
Under the proposed ordinance, each adjacent property owner on any public street, lane, alley or highway in the city must remove any dead trees or parts of trees that have become a public nuisance or hazard to a tree lawn or grass strip near the street.
Property owners are required to prune and maintain trees to prevent branches from hanging over a sidewalk or street.
The lowest branch should be at least 14 feet above the pavement level of the alley, street or highway; 20 feet above state routes; and 10 feet over the sidewalk.
In cases of noncompliance, the city will issue a 10-day notice, then contract for the tree to be removed or the branches to be pruned. The property owner would be charged the cost.
The city can require a dead or diseased tree on private property to be removed when the tree poses a public hazard “to life and property outside of said property, or (harbors) insects or disease which constitute a potential threat to other trees within the city,” the proposed ordinance says.
However, Martuccio said the ordinance will not prevent residents from cutting down trees themselves on private property as long as the trees do not pose a risk to public right-of-way or a neighboring house.
“A person’s home is their castle,” he said. “... If a person wants to trim trees on their own property or cut them, they certainly can because it’s their own property.”
The new ordinance would prohibit the practice known as tree topping on public property, including city parks.
Trees severely damaged by storms or trees under utility wires may be exempted if pruning is impractical.
According to the draft legislation, topping means “the severe cutting back of limbs to stubs larger than 3 inches in diameter within the tree’s crown to such a degree so as to remove the normal canopy and disfigure the tree.”
Martuccio said the definition of tree topping would be modified for the final version of the legislation.
Members of the tree commission will be appointed by the mayor and approved by council.
The commission will be charged with developing recommendations for a comprehensive plan for the planting, maintenance, preservation and replacement of trees. Tree commission duties also would include identifying trees for immediate removal.
Commission members will serve two-year terms without compensation. Members must be city residents or employed in the city. At least three members must be experienced in or have extensive knowledge of the care of trees through documented certification or education including training through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry and the Tree Commission Academy.
City government would be represented on the commission. A non-voting member slot is being added for a representative of the utilities industry, Martuccio said.
Page 3 of 3 - Establishing a tree inventory in the city is a long-term goal to determine the health and age of public trees and where trees could be planted, Martuccio said. The city cannot afford to operate such a program, he said. Assistance may be sought from a college or university in the area.
Under the draft legislation, an individual, firm or corporation cannot “engage in the business” of cutting, pruning, treating or removing trees in the city until the service director is satisfied with the applicant’s tree-related knowledge and experience in accordance with the American National Standards Institute and International Society of Arboriculture.
The service director will issue an annual permit for $100 to cut or remove trees for business purposes. A permit can be revoked when tree care regulations have been violated.
Violators of the tree ordinance would face fines of up to $150. Each day the violation continues would be considered a separate offense.
The new regulations, if approved by council, would apply to utility companies.
Martuccio said input was sought from American Electric Power. The ordinance would establish regulations for the planting of trees near power lines, including the type of tree and the proper distance, he said.
“One of the things we would like to see ... is an opportunity for education and awareness,” said Carmen Prati-Miller, a spokeswoman for AEP.
“We trim and cut in accordance with the national and international trimming guidelines,” she said.
AEP contracts for tree trimming and removal, Prati-Miller said, adding that the company also has a forestry department that oversees tree-related issues.
Branches are trimmed when they are too close to power lines and could fall onto them and cause power outages, Prati-Miller said. Trees also can damage AEP equipment, she said.
“We’re totally in favor of the ordinance,” she said.