SHELDON—When it comes to trees in the right of way, the Sheldon City Council is looking to get to the root of the problem.
If a tree is in the right of way, which is the land in between the sidewalk and the curb, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to take care of the tree. But if the tree is dead, dying or diseased, then it is the city’s responsibility, along with handling the costs, to remove it.
However, the council is looking at possibly changing the city ordinance due to a couple of recent events that could cost Sheldon $1 million or more.
While it was not an actionable topic during the council’s meeting last Wednesday, it was put on the reports part of the agenda so the council could talk through its options to potentially come up with a solution at a future meeting.
Part of the topic stemmed from the July 5 derecho, which left a number of downed trees and branches with some being in the right of way. The city has since picked up the countless number of branch piles in front of residents’ property since the windstorm.
“I want to thank the city employees for all of their hard work because there were a lot down,” said councilman Brad Hindt.
Another reason the trees could be a problem is because of the emerald ash borer was found in O’Brien County earlier this year. If the insect spreads, it could cause most if not all of the ash trees to have to be cut down.
Sheldon public works director Todd Uhl said the cost to the city to remove the ash trees in the right of way could be $1 million.
Councilman Ken Snyder went as far to say that it is “dumb” to plant a tree that close to the sidewalk. The roots could lift the sidewalk, the tree could grow big enough to block signs or owners may not take care of the tree well enough, and it could be a hazard when walking on the sidewalk.
City manager Sam Kooiker asked Uhl how much the city spends each year on “proactive” tree trimming.
Uhl said it is not done every year, but it was done last year.
“I sent out a crew of four guys for three weeks doing nothing but trim,” Uhl said.
Mayor Greg Geels said there also are benefits of the trees in the city.
“You talk about tree-lined streets, that’s a common thing for any community, that’s a positive thing when they are talking about it,” he said. “Just to say trees are a liability, we are going to get rid of in the right of way because it’s going to cost us, I am not ready to make that decision, either.”
Geels brought up the downtown renovation and how trees were part of that because of what they added to the look.
“That was a hot-button topic for a time. Some didn’t want them, some did and we kind of met in the middle, and we didn’t add as many as we proposed,” he said. “I don’t want to be all anti-tree. I am not a tree hugger.”
Geels pointed out how he planted a couple of linden trees in the right of away at his house, which have provided much needed shade for his house over the years. He noted how he makes sure the tree is trimmed and makes sure it does not become a nuisance.
Councilman Wayne Barahona said while Geels does a commendable job of taking care of his trees and lawn, will the person who owns the property next do the same?
“In 20 to 30 years ago, Greg is going to move on to another place to live and who is going to say that next person is going to have that same responsibility and pride in those trees that my good friend the Lorax here has,” he said.
Barahona said there are plenty of ways to maintain the atheistic the city has without having trees in the right of way.
“It’s too much of a liability, too much stuff for the city to have to manage for the atheistic,” he said.
Hindt also liked the idea of not planting in the right of way.
“Going case by case, that could get dicey down the road,” he said. “Not going to say what it could turn into. Just my thought.”
Earlier in the meeting, the council approved a resolution allowing Steve Hallgren of Planning Solutions in Spencer to handle the city’s zoning administration and code enforcement.
Geels wondered if the issue of trees in the right of way might fall under Hallgren’s jurisdiction.
Kooiker said he will see him soon so he can broach the topic when Hallgren then.
Kooiker said he will look if there are ways to transfer the rights of the trees to the landowner and he will come back with more information at a future meeting.
Other action the council took included:
- Approving the $5,000 purchase of real estate owned by Mark and Karen Wagner east of Western Avenue south of West 10th Street.
- Financing of the east side water tower project and the Western Avenue project with up to $5.9 million in general obligation capital loan notes.
- Accepted the retirement notice from Sheldon Police Department sergeant Todd Wood effective Sept. 30.
- Approve an engineering agreement for the Seventh Avenue storm services improvements.