Proposed amendment prohibits any plantings taller than 1.5 feet on parkways within one foot of any curb or sidewalk. (Adina Keeling photo)

A proposed City ordinance regarding plants and trees along parkways, presented at the virtual public hearing this week, drew frustration and confusion from local residents, who were not afraid to voice their thoughts in the Zoom chat box for the meeting.

“This is not a well-thought-out plan at all,” wrote Lauren Marquez-Viso in the Zoom chat. “A ridiculous waste of time-city council will never approve these ordinance changes,” Dickelle Fonda added in the chat.

These comments, along with hundreds more, expressed the confusion and outrage felt by the 60 people who attended the July 14 virtual meeting. 

The existing ordinance states that plants on the parkway may not exceed three feet, and that no trees shall be planted in parkways and other public places within 15 feet from a crosswalk, intersection or alley. Exceptions are made for residents with permits issued by the City. 

The proposed amendment prohibits any plantings taller than 1.5 feet on parkways within one foot of any curb or sidewalk, or within 15 feet of a crosswalk, intersection or alley. Plantings within 48 inches of a fire hydrant may not grow taller than eight inches, the proposed amendment states. 

The amendment also states it is unlawful to plant within 2.5 feet of a parkway tree. Okallau said that some trees in native settings can grow close to other plants, but that urban trees lead stressful lives and that they could die if they need to compete for resources. 

According to the proposed amendment, community members can be fined heavily for violating these rules. For the first violation, residents are fined $150 for every day the offense is committed. A second violation is a $400 daily fine, and a third and any subsequent violation is a $750 daily fine.

In response to resident frustration, Public Works Director David Stoneback said that the amendment will be rewritten to include a 21-day warning period, and that community members will receive a warning before they are issued a first violation fine. 

Public Services Coordinator Emily Okallau presented the ordinance and answered questions from community members. She said these changes are for the ease of pedestrians who use the sidewalk, for firefighters who need access to the fire hydrants, and for other safety reasons. Within the last two weeks, there have been two accidents due to vegetation growing near an alley, she said. 

Community members were quick to voice their disagreement regarding the safety concerns. The real issue in terms of blockage is parked vehicles, not plants, they said. Community members also said the proposed ordinance would hinder the creative freedom of residents who go out of their way to tend to parkways, which are public spaces.

“People ought to be able to do what they want,” said Jeff Smith during the meeting’s Q&A session. “This is a progressive town, freedom ought to be a part of the progressive mantra.”

Ms. Okallau said that the objective of the ordinance is not to fine residents.

After hearing from the community, Mr. Stoneback did concede that some changes need to be made. “We will look at changing those fine amounts,” he added.

“I certainly hope the alderman will see through this and recognize this is not well-thought-out or good for the city right now,” Sarajane Giles commented in the Zoom chat box.

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

4 replies on “City Staff to Rethink Proposed Amendment on City Parkways”

  1. For the ease of pedestrians using sidewalks, the biggest change would be banning tall fencing at the point where the alley meets the sidewalk. Many drivers seem to think they need to stop before entering the street, where they can see pretty well, but not before passing a blind corner with the sidewalk.

    These bans on what are already low parkway plantings make no sense.

  2. I would very much like to see specific examples from the City that shows problem areas that are causing safety concerns. For sure, there are overgrown trees and shrubs that block passage on sidewalks. And, certainly fire hydrants should always be kept clear of plants and easy to access. I cycle all around this city, in every neighborhood, and have yet to see a parkway planting around a hydrant. This year, especially, parkway gardens are lovely and well-kept. If this ordinance was approved, I would be required to rip out the alleyway parkway garden that’s been lovingly maintained for more than 25 years? The garden that is constantly complemented and admired by my neighbors? I might complain about that.

  3. The amendment is a solution in search of a problem. The City already has many regulations that go unenforced unless there is a complaint. The fines, with or without warnings, are ridiculous and excessive. There is ALREADY a height restriction for corners, and there is ALREADY a nuisance ordinance to deal with messy, overgrown, or un-tended landscapes. Micromanaging Evanstonians who are already maintaining the City’s property (parkways belong to the city) is both offensive and a waste of City resources. Planting flowers, especially native flowers, on the parkway is far better for our ecosystem than standard turfgrass, which requires excessive watering, mowing, and chemicals. A parked van is a bigger visibility impediment to pedestrians and drivers than a stand of four-foot-high bee balm. What nonsense. I hope the city council agrees that the City has bigger fish to fry than this time-waster.

  4. I agree with the proposal for reducing height and placement of private plantings on public parkways.very tall plantings too near intersections … streets or alleys…obscure driver safe vision and safe crossings of pedestrians. Most private plantings are beautiful enhancements to our streets, but not when they block safe passage.

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