Tree cutting policy unclear in Niles

NILES — If a tree is in a devil strip, is the city authorized to cut it down if a resident asks?

It all depends on who you ask, and since there isn’t a clear answer, City Council President Bob Marino asked Law Director Terry Swauger during a Wednesday City Council meeting to draft legislation making the city’s policy crystal-clear.

After a resident questioned why the city recently cut down a tree in front of a Niles home, it became apparent those on council and the superintendent of the light department have differing perspectives on the answer.

“It’s been our policy since I started working here 25 years ago that if someone asks you to cut down a tree in the devil strip, you take it down,” Jim Newbrough, superintendent of the light department said. “All you’ve got to do is ask. As long as it’s feasible we’ll take it down, but we won’t come on private property.”

Councilman Steven Mientkiewicz, D-2nd Ward, questioned this response.

“If the tree comes down because it’s in the power lines, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to remove the stump,” Mientkiewicz said. “That was my impression of our policy, but now it’s different?”

Newbrough said when he first started working for the city, a tree fell on a car stopped at a traffic light and a resident came out and said she told the city six months earlier the tree was dead and going to fall. The policy that came out of that event was that if a resident wants a tree removed from the devil strip the city will remove it so there’s no question who is liable, but the resident has to ask first, Newbrough said.

Councilman Barry Steffey, D-4th Ward, said such a policy is inconsistent with a scenario he encountered on Hyde Avenue where a homeowner had a tree blown down in a storm that took out the power on his and his neighbor’s home. The city came out and trimmed the trees to make the lines passable that night, Steffey said, and told the homeowner the city had the right to the devil strip but not the responsibility to remove the rest of the tree.

“They did not cut down the tree as the resident asked at that time,” Steffey said. “The very next night the rest of the tree came down on their house.”

Swauger said in the instance Steffey mentioned, it was a very large tree that was beyond the capabilities of the city to remove. At-large Councilman Stephen Papalas said he’s been told countless times the city doesn’t remove trees in devil strips for residents, and Marino said the issue needs to be clarified by ordinance because picking and choosing which residents’ trees come down is not the way to run government.

In other business, City Council passed an ordinance 5-2, to fund the repair of a portion of sidewalks in front of a home on Lincoln Way and Morris Street. Although city law stipulates residents are responsible for the repair of sidewalks, the city violated its own laws by removing the sidewalks in January, which have subsequently been left unrepaired for nearly a year.

Council members Frank Pezzano, D-1st Ward, and Linda Marchese, D-3rdWard, voted against funding the sidewalk repair.