The city is considering a new tree preservation ordinance, which would mean property owners need a permit to cut down any tree six inches or larger in diameter.

Cara Pratt, the city’s sustainability and resilience coordinator, told the Environment Board during its meeting this week the proposed ordinance was based on one in Wilmette.

“Our goal is to preserve the benefits that the urban forest provides to the community,” said Emily Okallau, the city’s public services coordinator. She said the 6-inch mark is an industry standard. David Kornhauser, another board member, asked about trees that pose a danger, particularly when they split in the wind.

“The city is not going to get in the way of removing a tree that could fall on your house imminently,” Okallau said. The city currently groups tree species across four categories, ranging from those with a high ecosystem value (A) to invasive or unwanted trees (D on the scale), she said.

Fourteen people attended the virtual meeting Thursday, Jan.12, which spanned just over two hours, with the discussion revolving around the new tree ordinance, the proposed plastic bag tax and a deconstruction ordinance. Those present at the meeting called for more clarity on the tree ordinance and its impact. The six-inch measurement of the diameter is taken at breast height – called a DBH.

Both co-chair Cherie Fisher and Matt Cotter, a board member, expressed concerns about the equity aspect of tree permits.

Photo by Kelsey Atkinson

“If a permit is granted, this does allow people to buy their way into removing trees, right? What’s the threshold there?” Fisher asked.

Okallau said the city aims to work with property owners to preserve trees while still providing space for construction or developments.

“Any rule that has an escape hatch with a dollar value in some sense just doesn’t apply to people with sufficient wealth. That makes me a little worried,” Cotter said.

Okallau said the ordinance is slated to go before city council at its Feb. 13 meeting, with an implementation target set for later this year.

Other issues brought up included:

  • The Jan. 9 city council meeting tabled the bag tax and sent it back to the Human Services Committee. Council members agreed on lowering the proposed 15-cent fee to 10 cents. The city’s climate goals call for a complete ban on single-use plastics by 2025.
  • The city is also looking to add staff to its sustainability office, board co-chair Cherie Fisher said, with the city hiring for two specialist roles. During the meeting, she encouraged people to get the word out.
  • A deconstruction ordinance requires buildings to be deconstructed rather than demolished, with materials being re-used. Cook County has a demolition debris diversion ordinance, under which 70% of demolition debris must be diverted to a landfill, but only 5% is required to be reused. “About a third of all landfill waste comes from demolitions. Diverting that waste doesn’t just abate that landfill, it also abates noise and hazardous waste from the demolition itself such as dust and other particulates,” said city planner Cade Sterling, who also works with the Preservation Commission.

Sterling said the commission’s goals and work are tied with the city’s climate and environmental targets. “It was very important to this commission that they align themselves with many of your goals,” he said.

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. Wilmette recently passed a property tree ordinance recognizing that the tree canopy on the NorthShore is one of a kind which contributes significantly to the capture of carbon, provides shade to mitigate the effects of radiated heat, absorbs rain water runoff, provide stability to the soil and habitat for numerous animals and birds.

    ( Guess I should also mention trees provide jobs for those in the tree trimming and pruning business as well as the sewer rodding businesss!! )

    So unless it is dead, in danger of falling or environmentally undesirable, be a good host to what gives life to many in a multitude of ways and asks for very little in return

    1. I second your comment!
      The one thing I want to add, about the danger of a tree falling on one’s house, is that this could happen because of a tornado or straight-line wind, not just because the tree is sick and weak. A similarly dangerous piece of debris could also be blown onto your roof from extreme winds, which are a hazard in all of Illinois. Therefore, both the structure and the cladding of the roof should be chosen to be able to withstand such a blow without serious or hurtful damage.