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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.