Commission faces setback changing shade tree boundaries

Efforts to redefine the geographic boundaries of city shade trees hit a setback earlier this week when a motion to publish an ordinance that would change part of the city code failed to gain support from enough members of St. Marys City Council. The motion to publish Ordinance 264 was rejected by a 4-3 vote. According to Kathy Herzing, chairperson of the Shade Tree Commission, the purpose of the ordinance was to make it easier for citizens to identify shade trees. Most importantly, Herzing noted that the definition of a shade tree would be changed to only cover trees located in the area between a sidewalk and curb. "I don't think it's stated that way in the present wording and we need to have that cleared up. Many times, people call us asking for us to remove trees that are not city trees," Herzing said. The city's current ordinance defines trees that fall within the designated right-of-way on each roadway as shade trees, a measure that was confusing for some individuals because not all right-of-ways are the same. Mark Jacob, city solicitor, explained that he understood the reasoning behind the proposed change was to do away with any gray areas in determining what constitutes a shade tree. "You can go there, stand there and look at it and say, 'Yep, that's a shade tree because it's within that boundary,'" Jacob said. Under the proposed ordinance, in addition to trees located between a sidewalk and curb, other exceptions would have included trees on the Boulevard and any trees located in the city's parks. Herzing also explained that if a citizen decides to plant a tree within the area between the curb and sidewalk, they are supposed to fill out a form and receive permission from the Shade Tree Commission. The tree would then be planted at that individual's expense. Council members expressed concern about what would happen if someone decided to plant a tree in that area without first consulting the commission for approval. "I don't really know that that's ever happened," Herzing said. Jacob responded that, by his understanding, as long as the tree was planted between the curb and sidewalk it would become a shade tree, no matter whether permission was given for it to be planted in the first place. "The Shade Tree Commission could come in and cut that down," Jacob said. He added that a similar provision is included in the current ordinance for shade trees planted within the right-of-way along each roadway. A roll-call vote was held and council members Sally Geyer, Steve Skok and Rick Gabler all voted for publishing the ordinance, while Dick Dornisch, Bob Roberts, Denny Nero and Dan Hepner voted in opposition. After publication of the ordinance was rejected, Jacob encouraged Herzing to contact Mike Mullaney, the city's public works director, to see if some of the issues that concerned members of council could be worked through.