Lakewood City Council seeks to clarify city’s tree removal policy; Mayor George has issues with proposal

LAKEWOOD, Ohio – About a month after the city’s clearing of trees on Detroit Avenue sparked social media controversy and community outcry, Councilor Sarah Kepple introduced an ordinance last week that didn’t just put the The responsibilities of the Lakewood Tree Task Force are optimized, but the tree plan of the city from 1958 is also to be updated.

“Much of the language in the chapters on trees is out of date and does not fully correspond to the Tree Policy Council adopted in 2019,” said Kepple. “We’re trying to get all levels of our city government on one side in terms of how we approach a canopy of trees.

“When tree removal is required, we ensure that the public has an opportunity to understand why this is planned, why it is necessary, and then have the opportunity to speak,” she said.

City Council President Daniel J. O’Malley endorses the Treetop Ordinance.

“Every time a tree is felled in my ward, I get a call from a disgruntled resident,” said O’Malley. “We felled many centuries-old trees that are inherent in the character of our city.

“I understand the need to take them down, but I think we can better explain to our residents why these changes are necessary.”

The timing of the new ordinance is directly related to last month’s incident when half a dozen sunburst locust trees were removed from the south side of Detroit Avenue between Lakeland and Westwood Streets as part of the city’s regular canopy maintenance.

The plan is to replace the locust trees with more urban lilac trees made of silk ivory, which the city last planted on the eastern grassland of Lakewood Park.

The city said the trees in question were safety hazards that would need to be removed before a full sidewalk replacement project. While the move was allegedly discussed with business owners, the incident was not communicated in advance via a letter, creating confusion.

“The incident demonstrated that it was necessary to codify our policy practices and clarify best practices (guidelines) in order to make these decisions,” said Kepple.

“It is important to know that this applies specifically to planned tree removal. At a certain point, the arborist decides whether trees need to be felled. That would be noticed so the public would know beforehand. It’s really about community trust and engagement in the process, ”said Kepple.

The current regulation has been submitted to the committee for further discussion. While Kepple is confident it will pass in early 2021, Mayor Meghan George said she was not in favor of the regulation’s current language.

“There’s a lot of discussion that needs to take place,” said George. “As it is currently being read, there is no way I can endorse a volunteer panel that is not a certified arborist who is making decisions about the public safety of trees as part of a screening process.

“Additionally, we believe that there are certain parts of this current legislation that violate the employment contract by outsourcing the arborists ability to make decisions about tree removal.”

The mayor said the city has four arborists in its forestry department who together have 75 years of experience. This year Lakewood removed 134 trees for safety reasons.

George said it would add an unnecessary “layer of bureaucratic red tape” to having arborists and fire fighters – who also remove trees due to hazards – write reports and schedule meetings before and after each removal.

“We all hate cutting down trees, but they are living things and they have a lifespan,” said George. “The good thing is that we continue to invest in our treetops. We planted more than 400 trees this year and are planning similar funding for our tree roof for next year.

“I fully support investing in our canopy, but I also need to give our fine city workers the tools to do their jobs. You can’t take the decision-making process away from professional arborists. “

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