Proposed Shade Tree Policy: Residents Replace Cleared Trees or Pay Up

Under the new shade tree proposal presented to the council, the village would also discontinue planting trees in public right-of-ways.

If the preliminary plan goes through, Ridgewood will stop planting trees in the right-of-way while requiring residents who remove their own trees to either replace them or pay into a tree fund.

Following months of discussion and now under the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy, the Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee (REAC) offered their official recommendations to the council, largely modeled by Hanover's shade tree policy.

Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, the REAC liaison, said under the plan Ridgewood would stop planting trees in the public right-of-way, as Sandy exposed key infrastructure shortcomings. Sidewalks and streets sustained considerable damage since there isn't space for the trees to grow.

“We’ve got a real big problem,” she said.

But that doesn't mean the village will rip up existing trees in the right-of-ways or force the public to take ownership of them. “They would be our continued responsibility,” she noted.

The other major component of the plan is likely to elicit more controversy.

As part of the drafted ordinance, restrictions on what residents can do with their own trees would be enacted.

Should a property owner choose to remove four trees, they would be required to either replace those lost trees elsewhere on the property or pay into a town-wide tree trust fund, Walsh said. What amount property owners would have to pay in has not yet been determined.

“We want to put some parameters on if you take it out you have to put this back in,” Walsh said.

Parks and Recreation, as well as Engineering staff, would help develop a list as to what trees would be most appropriate for planting at individual sites.

If passed, it would impact applications at the planning and zoning boards, as well as the building department. 

An extension of the trust fund idea, Walsh said REAC has aims to create a separate tree endowment fund with some lucky residents winning a "lottery" for a tree already budgeted.

Further, if some trees are considered a public danger – dead or atop electrified wires – the village could force their removal.

As Sandy demonstrated, a comprehensive shade tree policy will require cooperation with PSE&G.

Walsh said she's hopeful the utility will agree to ID problem trees as they do their line work. Typically, if a utility worker sees a tree that's dead or hazardous, they leave a flier on the resident's door listing PSE&G's tree removal vendor. The hope would be, Walsh said, the village's tree vendor would be listed instead.

All of these factors would be buoyed by REAC and Ridgewood's Green Team having a larger presence in town. 

The council will continue to discuss particulars of the plan at upcoming meetings. 

Ann December 07, 2012 at 11:30 PM
It is outrageous for any "committe" to interfere with how many trees a homeowner chooses to remove. What creditionals do these people have to encroach on our liberties? It is just another activist group imposing their opinion which will cost the already tax burdened homeowner money as a penalty for not complying with their opinions. Maybe one does not want some imposing trees crushing their house and choses safety for their family or a pool for their family. So what is next on their agenda? Today it is trees on our private property, What next? It starts out so innocently, in the name of some cause, but it never ends. This is a slippery slope to tyranny .
Helen Cool December 08, 2012 at 04:54 AM
I don't think the people of Ridgewood are very happy with the above suggestions. First off as I recall most of the trees in this town were trimmed to protect the properties they occupied. For some reason that has been discontinued perhaps due to some austerity program. I'm not sure the town has the right to force the populace to either replace or contribute to some fund or another upon their removal. Trust me when I say I was not delighted with the 10 days of power lose that I experienced with Sandy it was a tad scary. However, I do think this has to be thought out a little more carefully.
OHW December 09, 2012 at 07:23 PM
This is the Rahm Emmanuel approach to government: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." What the council couldn't do was increase the ability of REAC and the Engineering department to meddle in other people's business. This is the same cast of barely competent characters who devoted a whole section of a report to arguing that the turf in the flood plain was environmentally responsible. The group is driven by village politics, not by any particular competence. And now the council is going to team them up with Chris Rutishauser, of all people, to give them control over what and how many trees can be planted in our back yards? Give me a break...
PLAYAC December 10, 2012 at 06:32 PM
The Hanover tree policy probably is workable if tweaked a bit. The required replacement of trees in most cases has to do with new development. If you are taking down diseased or dangerous trees on your property, you're not required to replace the trees. You probably would want to adjust the policy such that a property owner has the right without limitation to take down any trees (irrespective of the health of the tree) if the tree height is greater than the height of the house and where the tree could fall on the house or a neighboring property (i.e, the trees are deemed to be hazardous). Unfortunately, I don't think this potential policy would have a major effect on the existing tree problem in our town - people aren't going to remove their poor quality trees (which are the majority of trees in town) given the cost involved, people aren't going to safey prune their trees given the cost involved and the town isn't going to remove all the overgrown/poor quality trees in the right of way because of the cost involved. I doubt even the latest storm ultimately will have much effect in terms of people taking care of their trees other than the ones that already have fallen. Regarding trees in the right of way, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with planting trees in the right of way as long as you plant specimens where the mature canopy is not going to reach the height of the utility line and the root system is ok for a right of way planting.
Melvin Freedenberg January 17, 2013 at 02:55 PM
During superstorm Sandy, a tree in the right of way by my neighbor's property, came down. The Village pushed it to the side of the road and the bulk of the tree was picked up a few weeks later. About six feet of the base of the tree was cut off from the root system and about a 1,000 lb. tree trunk was dragged over to my side of the right of way. There it lays, on the right of way, still two months after Sandy. I called the Village and they checked to see if it was on their list for removal. They never told me one way or the other. Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh said, "But that doesn't mean the village will rip up existing trees in the right-of-ways or force the public to take ownership of them. “They would be our continued responsibility,” she noted." Where is the responsiblity or is Ms. Walsh just a mouthpiece for dreams with rose colored glasses while she drinks the Kool Aid? Action is louder than words and action does not seem to be forthcoming.


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