“Hey bub, move that shrub.”

Okay, that’s not exactly what the City of Evanston has in mind, but a proposal is on the table to regulate what people can plant in areas called parkways, the publicly owned strip of land between a sidewalk and a street.

A public meeting on the proposal will be held Wednesday.

Some parkway limits are already in place. For example, nothing planted can be higher than three feet tall.

The new rules would reduce that height to 1.5 feet for plantings near a crosswalk, intersection, or alley. The idea is to increase visibility for motorists.

The measure also would keep plantings at least 2.5 feet away from parkway trees, which means no more hostas planted directly under and up against those trees.

A diagram from the city website illustrating the restrictions.

“It’s not healthy for a tree to have to compete with other plants” for rainwater, says Dave Stoneback, the city’s director of public works.

There would also be restrictions on height and distance of plantings near fire hydrants.

A series of fines would go onto the books: $150 for the first violation, $400 for the second, and $750 for the third and any subsequent violations. Stoneback says that idea might be changed so the first violation would only lead to a warning.

A zip line fastened to trees on Lake Avenue on Friday afternoon.

The city already prohibits fastening objects to parkway trees. But has failed to effectively enforce that rule, since it’s easy to spot swings and zip lines attached to trees all over town.

A swing hanging from a parkway tree on Dewey Avenue Thursday.

However, the proposed new measure would give the City more teeth for enforcement.

The Natural Habitat Evanston unit of Citizens’ Greener Evanston has come out against the new rules, writing in a newsletter that “The new rules are not needed. City nuisance laws already provide for fines when plants could interfere with streets and intersections, sidewalks or fire hydrants.”

The group says the city claims it lacks the capacity to enforce existing restrictions like those on leaf blowers, “so how can it possibly inspect every single parkway garden and do it repeatedly”?

It the city selectively enforces the proposed new ordinance, the group adds, how is that equitable?

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) has his doubts about whether such changes to the city’s current parkway planting rules are needed.

“I’m not sure if it’s something we should be spending our time on,” he tells Evanston Now.

“If someone can demonstrate to me there’s a problem, let’s solve it,” Nieuwsma says. However, he adds that “education and some guidelines” might do the job just as well as adding new regulations.

The virtual public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., however a link to join the session has not yet been posted on the City website.

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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