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New Evanston ordinance regulates tree removal on private property

Per city ordinance 15-0-23, (dubbed the Tree Preservation Ordinance), the City of Evanston will begin to regulate tree removal on private property. 

Evanston property owners intending on performing construction within 25-feet of a tree will be required to complete a ‘Tree Review Application’ prior to construction in tandem with other construction and building permits. 

The ordinance also mandates that property owners removing trees for reasons other than construction will be required to obtain a $75 permit prior to removing trees with a diameter of six inches or more. However, property owners do not require a permit for pruning (when in compliance with industry-recognized pruning standards or if completed by a certified and qualified professional); instances when a tree may cause imminent harm to people or property; trees with a diameter less than six inches and deceased, dying, sick, hazardous or invasive trees.

Pathways on how to remove trees on private property, as authored by the city.

Evanston outlined a number of reasons for the creation of the tree preservation ordinance, stating among other things that trees provide enhanced mental and physical health, improve school performance, reduce crime and risk-taking behavior in children, minimize energy consumption and cost, supply reductions in air and noise pollution, assist in adequate stormwater runoff, stabilize valuable topsoil and serve as a haven for birds and other animals. 

The City emphasized that, while all trees provide the aforementioned benefits, larger trees are significantly more beneficial than smaller ones, hence the permit applying only to trees with a diameter of six inches or more.

Evanston noted that 70 to 80 percent of tree canopy in the city is located on private property, and that it is essential to protect these trees, regardless of who owns the land they are on.

Council members at the Aug. 28 Evanston City Council meeting voiced their opinions on the ordinance, many of them unfavorable.  

“I don’t know if this is a [demonstrated] problem,” Sixth Ward councilmember Thomas Suffredin told Public Services Coordinator and certified arborist Emily Okallau. 

He spoke in response to Okallau’s revelation that their staff had no data on the number of trees that are going to be removed from private properties in Evanston.

Second Ward council member Krisse Harris expounded on Suffredin’s words. 

“I’m just worrying about encroaching on private property. I hear all the time that [the City] is too involved. I’ve been emailed, called, and I worry if [this] is really our right,” said Harris. “I understand [the importance of] the tree canopy, but I don’t have random people coming in my backyard to get under my tree.”

Like Harris, Suffredin expressed concern regarding the encroachment on private property. 

ETHS freshman Benjamin Brown sympathized with Suffredin and Harris.

“Why should [they] be forcing [us] to get a permit to cut down trees? It’s [the homeowner’s] property. If I have a carrot in my yard, do I need a permit to pick it out? It sounds overly bureaucratic,” said Brown.

Responding to the concerns of Harris and Suffredin, Interim Corporation Counsel Alexandra Ruggie reminded council members of the City’s powers.

 “[The city] can make regulations that impact private property, as we’ve done many times,” said Ruggie.

Trees on city-owned property in Evanston’s Clark Square Park.

Fourth Ward councilmember Jonathan Nieuwsma was in support of the ordinance.

“The ordinance is very closely drafted on [a similar Wilmette] ordinance, so we have ample precedent that this kind of ordinance works in our region; in our neighborhood,” Nieuwsma said.

An Evanston homeowner who had a hollow tree removed from his property before the ordinance was implemented said that his support of the ordinance depends on how complicated the tree removal process is. “The city shouldn’t give [property owners] obstacles,” he said.

The Wilmette-inspired ordinance was created as part of the city’s Climate Action Resilience Plan (CARP), which is a wider program that aims to make Evanston more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The ordinance was introduced at the Aug. 28 Evanston City Council meeting and was passed two weeks later.

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