BENWOOD, W.Va. (AP) — While Benwood residents may believe there is nothing as beautiful as a tree on private property, city leaders also see trees as a possible liability.
Because of that possibility, Benwood City Council is considering an ordinance giving city workers the authority to remove trees and vegetation they see as being in the way of utility lines, blocking traffic or endangering public safety.
The legislation also specifies what new trees people can plant in their yards, and requires them to get a permit if they want to take down existing larger trees.
"We're having a lot of trouble with streets and alleys that our trucks have to go through," Benwood Code Enforcer Bob Kish told council members late last month. "Stuff is overgrowing in them. We had no real (authority) to make people cut them. The word 'nuisance' can be interpreted in an (any) number of ways. In my opinion, we had to come up with something we can go by if someone has a problem from now on."
Kish said there are also issues with the owners of trees and plants on private property.
"I can write them up and ask them (the owners) to trim it," Kish said. "With this, if they don't trim it, we can go in with the ordinance."
But Benwood residents say most homes are well-kept in the city, and they question whether such policy is needed there.
"This is funny for a small town ...," said Cirstin Redman. "I'm not sure what Benwood thinks they are. Everyone here is able to make their own decisions about how to maintain their yard. For the most part, everyone keeps up their property."
Charlotte Szafran said existing law and insurance policy requirements are enough to make people care for the trees on their property.
"I don't think I would like that," she said. "There's enough law already on the books."
Owners of trees hanging over streets and rights of ways in Benwood would be required under the ordinance to prune their branches so they don't obstruct street lights, and a clear space of at least 8-feet between the branches and the ground is required. Owners also would have to remove all dead, diseased or dangerous limbs that create a hazard to the community.
The city would have the right to prune or remove any trees on private property found to be creating a safety hazard, according to the ordinance. The city code enforcer would first notify the owners of the unsafe tree in writing, and owners would have 60 days after receiving notice to remove the trees. If the owner fails to comply, city workers would be permitted to take down the tree with the cost of removal attached to the owner's property tax bill.
Also, owners wanting to remove larger trees on their property would have to first obtain a tree removal permit from the code enforcer.
"No one shall cut down, kill or otherwise destroy any street (privately owned) tree without the permission of city council or their designee," the ordinance states.
The measure, meanwhile, also permits the planting of vegetation in locations where it doesn't encroach on the public right of way.
"Encroachment on private property is commonly a private civil matter," the ordinance states. "The city will not become involved in such disputes unless it deems there is significant safety concern."
The measure also provides a comprehensive list of trees that are permitted for planting in Benwood, and stipulates how far the trees must be spaced from each other and from the street based upon their size and type.
Council held its first of two readings of the ordinance last month, and is expected to vote on the measure at its next meeting, set for June 10.
Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.theintelligencer.net