Evanston’s Community Development staff says a proposed ordinance to protect trees on private property may discourage affordable housing construction in the city.

The City Council is scheduled Monday night to consider the tree preservation ordinance, which has been under development for a couple years.

In a memo to the council, staff says, “Additional costs and extended approval times for building permits and construction” required by the ordinance “may reduce the development of housing types such as detached and attached accessory dwelling units that provide smaller and more affordable housing options, particularly in high-cost single-family neighborhoods.”

And the memo adds that the ordinance likely instead would “continue the pattern of demolishing modest homes to build large, single-family homes and counter efforts to develop mixed-income neighborhoods throughout Evanston to address economic segregation.”

It also says that the requirement in the proposed ordinance that homeowners seeking to take down a tree provide a diagram of trees on neighboring properties could give neighbors who oppose a project a way to block it by not providing access to their land for the survey.

The memo also suggests that the rule would disparately impact residents in low and moderate income neighborhoods who are more likely to have narrow lots that would trigger the requirement to map trees on neighboring property.

And it says property owners may be reluctant to plant trees, or replace dying ones if they feel it will limit their ability to expand their home in the future.

The ordinance has been sought by the city’s Environment Board which cites studies concluding that urban trees provide a variety of benefits to the community including better air quality, reduced flooding and improved wildlife habitat.

Related stories

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Trees are what give Evanston part of its special quality as a community. They are cooling, providing shade, while helping slow down climate change. Additionally, researchers have demonstrated that a reduction in trees precedes an increase in crime rates. A study of the Ida B. Wells project in Chicago done by the University of Illinois provides an important perspective. “By comparing aerial photos and police crime reports, the researchers calculated that buildings still surrounded by lots of foliage saw 48 percent fewer property crimes, on average, and 56 percent fewer violent crimes than buildings with low levels of vegetation. To be clear, the analysis didn’t prove the trees caused the phenomenon. But in the nearly two decades since, a small but growing body of research has supported the idea that trees may have a calming effect on crime.” I would hate to see trees sacrificed however noble the goal of creating affordable housing might be. Perhaps there are ways to have both.

  2. I would like to see the City Council pass the Tree Ordinance to adhere to the stated goal in the Climate Action and Resilience Plan to protect and maintain Evanston’s tree canopy. The urban forest is an important part of our environment and contributes to the overall well-being of the community. I think it should be a priority to maintain the tree canopy and green space adjacent to affordable housing.

  3. Is there an issue with excessive removal of healthy trees from private properties? Has city staff collected any data from the landscape / tree service companies licensed in Evanston ? So more staff hired and more fees charged not to mention making the permit process more difficult and expensive than it already is. Why?

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *