Andover will no longer allow trees to be planted in the right of way along city streets.
Nobody who lives along a public street owns the property all the way to the road. The owner of the road, whether it be the city, county or state, also owns strips of land on both sides of the road, which is called the right of way. Some cities refer to it as the city boulevard. Within the right of way, a city can prohibit the planting of trees and the construction of storage sheds or fences, for example.
The right of way width for city roads can vary but typically is 13.5 feet for urban streets and 16.5 feet along rural streets, according to City Engineer and Public Works Director David Berkowitz. Andover used to allow trees to be planted in the right of way if they are a minimum of eight feet from the curb.
“Trees in the right of way are problematic for the city,” Andrew Liska, planning intern, told the Andover Planning and Zoning Commission at its Dec. 11 meeting. “They can block visibility, the expanding canopy can interfere with utilities and compromise overall general safety.”
This does not necessarily mean Andover will be chopping down trees that have already been planted.
“You buy a lot with trees on it, we’re not going to be having people taking trees down,” Councilmember Julie Trude said. “This is for when you go to the nursery and you pick the tree you want in front of your house, your best location is quite a distance in from the curb.”
On the other hand, Community Development Director David Carlberg said the city could still allow trees to be planted in the right of way in certain cases if the council approves it as part of a platted development. This could include trees in a parkway median, for instance.
Berkowitz said the biggest issue has come from residents planting trees on their own in the right of way. He recalled one case five to six years ago when a resident called to complain that their neighbor planted a dozen trees in the right of way and they were blocking road signs.
According to Berkowitz, when they go in to reconstruct a road, any tree within five feet of the new curb has been removed.
The right of way is wider and Berkowitz said he preferred cutting further back, but the council indicated it wants to preserve as many existing trees as possible. This revised ordinance is to address future tree planting only in order to reduce future maintenance and address safety concerns.
For a story on tree trimming that ran in April 2012 in ABC Newspapers, Chris Olson, an Andover street department maintenance worker, said not trimming the trees back causes garbage trucks, service trucks and the city’s own trucks to hit the branches, which leads to cuts in the tree and opens it up for the possibility of getting diseases.
Berkowitz said they pinpoint areas every winter where tree trimming is needed.
“We do spend a pretty extensive amount of time doing that work, so the intent of this is into the future make sure they plant them outside the right of way so that when they do grow up we don’t have as much of an issue as what we’re dealing with now,” he said.
Councilmember Sheri Bukkila wondered why the residents would not be trimming their own trees.
Berkowitz said the city has an obligation to maintain the city streets and trimming the trees is one aspect of this.
Councilmember Mike Knight said with the heavy snow this year, there are some trees where the branches are much lower and that is creating some issues.
What some other cities do
Trude said the suburbs do the opposite of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul which feel that creating a tree canopy along city streets is an attractive appearance, but Trude acknowledged that it is a cost to taxpayers.
“I guess with our larger front yards we have a little more space to put our trees,” Trude said.
For example, the Minneapolis’ Park and Recreation Board’s Forestry Division monitors the planting, pruning and removal of all trees on public property, including along streets and in city parks.
According to its website, it has a budget of over $9 million and Minneapolis cares for nearly 200,000 boulevard trees on 1,078 miles of streets.
Coon Rapids does allow trees to be planted in the right of way as long as they are acceptable species, according to Tommy Schibilla, city forester. The city does not allow spruce or pine trees in these areas because of visibility and trimming issues, he said.
Each spring, Coon Rapids plants trees in the right of way where a tree was removed the previous year, Schibilla said.
Coon Rapids allows the trunk of a tree to be no closer than eight feet from the curb if there is no sidewalk on its side of the road. If there is a sidewalk, the tree can be as close as five feet to the curb, but trees must be at least 50 feet away from an intersection corner to provide good visibility and trees must be at least 10 feet and 20 feet if possible away from water and sewer lines.
Blaine Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said Blaine allows trees to be planted along the boulevard. In most zoning districts, Blaine requires one of the two front yard trees to be planted in the boulevard, he said.
On the other hand, Ham Lake does not allow any trees to be planted in the city’s right of way.
Anoka allows boulevard tree planting in certain circumstances. According to its website, residents must first receive a permit, but the city on its own could decide to plant trees in the right of way.
However, the city and residents would both have to meet numerous setback requirements, which would vary depending on the tree species.
For example, a boulevard tree in Anoka must be planted at least three feet from the back side of a curb plus an additional foot for every 12-inch of mature tree trunk diameter. So a red oak tree that gets to a 36-inch diameter would need to be initially planted six feet away from the curb.
Anoka also requires trees to be planted at least 30 feet away from street intersections, at least 10 feet from alleys and driveways, at least six feet from private sewer and water services, street signs and crosswalks, 10 to 15 feet from a fire hydrant and 10 to 18 feet from a utility pole.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]