Evanston’s Environmental Board voted Thursday night to have city staff draft an ordinance that would impose steep penalties for removing large trees from private property.

“Make incredibly steep fines,” Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said, addressing the board. “I want to do whatever is necessary to reduce the removal of these incredibly valuable trees from the community.”

“Prohibit taking down any trees” above a certain size, Kelly added.

But Kelly told the board the initial version of the ordinance should not cover single-family, owner-occupied homes.

That exclusion, she said, would be needed to win quick approval of the ordinance from City Council, saving some trees immediately.

“Then we can work on amending it in an appropriate way later to include owner-occupied single-family homes,” Kelly added.

Emily Okallau.

Emily Okallau, the public services coordinator in the Public Works Agency, said the original staff proposal included protection for trees on single family lots because without including them it would “not significantly protect the majority of trees on private property in Evanston.”

Instead, she said, it would mainly deal only with trees on sites that were slated for development.

Trisha Connolly.

Trisha Connolly, a 2nd Ward resident who has opposed many development projects in town, said she feared that with a new tax increment financing district in the 5th Ward there will be a great deal of new development there. She hopes the tree ordinance will be adopted to restrict it.

Some of the trees removed from the Emerson Street at Jackson Avenue site where the property owner plans to clear the land of existing buildings.

Connolly said at one potential development site, on Jackson Avenue near Emerson Street, “it was devastating to see what happened” last weekend when several trees were cut down.

Tom Klitzkie.

But Environment Board member Tom Klitzkie, a co-owner of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, said the trees that had been removed on Jackson were “trashy trees” that were mostly junk and wouldn’t have deserved protection under an ordinance.

Okallau said under the law homeowners cannot be denied the privilege to enjoy their properties and their economic value. “You can’t necessarily block people from getting a reasonable amount of enjoyment out of the property.”

That, she suggested, would put a complete ban on removing big trees at risk of a successful legal challenge.

Environment Board member Jerri Garl said she was concerned about an approach that would let people pay a substantial fee to get a permit to take down a big tree.

“From an equity standpoint, Garl said, that means “if you’re wealthy enough you can cut down all your trees.”

Evanston, while it has a greater percentage of its land covered with trees than most neighboring communities, also has some areas — downtown and in lower-income neighborhoods — that have less tree cover than its more affluent residential areas.

That equity issue around the distribution of trees led Berkeley, California, to launch this month a program funded by the city and by state grants to plant more trees in the parkway in lower-income sections of the city.

Berkeley has had a moratorium in place on the removal of large Coast Live Oak trees since 2006, but has yet to adopt the comprehensive tree preservation ordinance that was intended to trigger the lifting of the moratorium.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I totally agree on the need for an ordinance to protect large trees. A developer bought my neighbors house that had a huge red oak in back that had to be 250 years old. The developer walked out one day and mentioned casually “I am thinking about cutting that tree down”. I asked why? “To open up the yard.” I emphatically urged him not to because of the value of the canopy and the fact that this ‘thing’ was older than us and would likely live many years after we are gone. Luckily, the developer did not cut the tree down.

  2. I have fifty trees on my property and I can tell you that it is a huge responsibility to manage trees, as well as incredibly costly. I think a policy to protect trees of value is important, but don’t assume that all people are poor stewards. I just trimmed my canopy back on all my trees that wrap around my house at the south side yesterday. I met with Mike Wall at Sunrise, and thoughtfully trimmed them back 10-15 feet so that I can have some sunlight on my lot. The trees grow about 5-7 feet a year and grow towards the house. My goal is to get a solar panel on my flat roof on the third floor.
    I think most homeowners don’t understand trees well enough to appreciate what they have on their property. I suggest that all homeowners set up a free consultation with a tree specialist to develop a plan to respectfully be a steward of your property.

  3. Should always be up to the owners of properties to cut or not cut. We don’t need a bunch of Karen’s crying. So tired of the liberal Karen’s in our society.

  4. Another example of where Evanston will get things wrong. My home, my rights, my property … and how dare the City tell Evanston residents what to do when their own tree program is not well managed. If I have a tree leaning over the top of my home and need to take it down, I will. Or the City and any Neighbor Karen can pay for the repairs that happen. This will be a massive lawsuit of property rights and Evanston will lose.

  5. I love trees and am pro tree preservation to a reasonable extent. Given the increase in severe weather, this ordinance will have to be carefully managed if it passes to allow homeowners the right to remove large trees that pose a hazard to their home or their neighbors’ homes. I love trees, but we have a huge box elder that has dropped large heavy branches on our property and our neighbor’s property over the past year. Luckily no lasting harm has been done. But I’d like to think I could remove this tree without getting fined.

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