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Changes likely for proposed parkway planting rules

Homeowners fume about plan to fine them for putting plants on the parkway.

This ring of hostas around a parkway tree on Dewey Avenue would subject the homeowner to fines under the proposed ordinance. (Bill Smith photos)

People are passionate about parkway plantings. Say that five times fast.

Okay, don’t. The sixty people who attended a virtual public hearing Wednesday night about the city’s proposed new parkway planting rules were passionate enough.

And their message to City staff could perhaps be summed up by what resident Lucy Elam had to say: “You need to take this back and scrap it and start over.”

Parkways are the grassy strips between a sidewalk and the street. It’s city-owned property, but homeowners are expected to take care of the land, and, if they get a permit, can put in plants.

City officials are concerned that some of the plantings are too tall, blocking sight lines at intersections. Emily Okallau, the city staffer who handles parkway planting permits, said there were two such accidents at alleys within the past couple of weeks.

Other plants are too close to fire hydrants. And plantings which are next to parkway trees, such as hostas or others, can drink up water a tree needs in order to thrive.

Plus, Okallau said, adjacent plant roots can be “devastating” to a tree. Parkway trees are planted by the city.

“Our urban trees planted on the parkway have stressful lives,” Okallau said. “They need all the help they can get.”

The proposed rules would require 2.5 feet of space between plantings and parkway trees.

Currently, such plantings are supposed to be no more than three feet tall. The proposed rules would cut that height in half near intersections, crosswalks and alleys.

Besides criticizing the proposed height requirements, speakers at the hearing were incensed at proposed fines of $150 for a first violation, $400 for a second, and $750 for a third.

Resident Jeff Smith said, “The City of Evanston ought to drop down on its knees and thank the homeowners for maintaining property they don’t own.”

Okallau said the intent is not to collect fines. In fact, she doubted any would ever be issued. Rather, the goal is to have something in the city code which makes parkway planting violations consistent with property violations on the homeowner’s side of the sidewalk.

Okallau said the overall goal is to help preserve trees, and set some standards with the assumption that more people in the future will want to plant on the parkways, to help the environment.

However, based on input from the hearing, it’s likely some changes will be made in the proposed amendments.

“I guarantee you, “said Public Works Director Dave Stoneback, that a first violation would become a written warning only, and not a fine. He also said the proposed fine structure will be reviewed.

City Council will have final say on approving, rejecting, or changing the proposal developed by staff.

The timing of what happens next is unclear.

Stoneback said, “I’m not sure how we will proceed.”

Related story

City proposes parkway plant restrictions and fines (7/10/21)

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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