Evanston’s Environment Board wants the City Council to impose a one-year ban on removing trees from private property.

The proposed ban would apply to trees eight-inches or more in diameter unless they were dead or hazardous.

It’s the latest effort in a multi-year campaign by the environment group to restrict homeowners’ rights to control what happens on their own property.

So far the City Council has discussed a variety of restrictions, but has yet to adopt any.

A city staff memo to the Planning and Development Committee says the latest proposal would unfairly burden homeowners with small lots, would require additional city staff to enforce and require additional expensive documentation.

Community Development Director Johanna Nyden says in the memo that property owners with smaller lots “are more likely to encounter tree-location issues when looking to upgrade properties with building additions, garages, decks and patios.”

So a ban, she says, would prohibit improvements on such properties — while landowners with larger properties could move ahead unimpeded — or be able to afford to pay the fine if they chose to take down a tree.

A study published last year by the Chicago Region Tree Initiative showed Evanston has 36% more of its land area covered by trees than the average for Cook County.

It’s not clear from the available data whether the tree canopy — now said to cover 38% of Evanston’s land — has increased or decreased in recent years. However, regionwide the number of trees is said to have increased 12% between 2010 and 2020.

A more extensive tree canopy, the CRTI study says, tends to mitigate the heat island effect in urban areas, lowering summer temperatures. Trees also retain rainwater, slowing runoff that causes flooding and also tend to reduce pollution levels.

The City Council’s Planning and Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal at its meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. You know the old saying? Good intentions…

    No one is denuding Evanston; if a tree is removed for landscaping, usually it’s being replaced with one or more other varieties.

    If there is a dying or dangerous tree, will we have to spend a year applying for permits?

    Our city staff is already far too burdened with minutiae; are we going to make their lives that much more stressful with additional inane rules and permits?

    If that happens and a tree damages property, the city leaves itself open to legal action not just by homeowners but their insurance companies. This won’t be the fault of staff, but of the mountain of regulations they’re forced to monitor and enforce, i.e., the committee that created and enacted the regulations.

    I’ve seen trees desperately in need of removal because they’re either becoming unsafe or are currently unsafe. They’ve heaved up sidewalks and choked/destroyed sewer lines.

    If someone moves into or lives on a property with trees that were allowed to grow unintentionally, those trees—especially in Evanston— could make it difficult to impossible to replace a fence or protect a structure.

    I know they mean well, but there are a million other things that the committee should focus on that won’t include class action lawsuits by Property owners.

  2. What problem is this ordinance trying to solve? Are there a bunch of property owners razing trees in Evanston that require the Council to now mandate that no property owner can remove a tree from their property? What happened to property rights?

    If there’s a problem – and I’m skeptical there’s a widespread problem – then why doesn’t the City require that any property owner that removes a tree, replace the tree with another one on their property? Problem solved. If we don’t have enough trees in Evanston then the government could mandate that the owner replace the removed tree with two trees. Whatever the Council does – and doing nothing seems preferable – let’s not impose a restriction that diminishes the property rights of Evanston residents.

  3. The other commenters have hit the nail on the head for why this is a horrible idea, but the sentence “It’s the latest effort in a multi-year campaign by the environment group to restrict homeowners’ rights to control what happens on their own property.” ….. Really???

    Restricting some things is totally appropriate. Partying at 4 am? Dumping DDT into your own yard? A live-ammo shooting range? You can’t live in a town / city (or anywhere, really) and expect complete & total permission to do WHATEVER you want. We live in a society. Property ownership doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want. Zoning and regulations have been around for centuries dude.

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