Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Council Vote Puts the Ax to Second Street Pear Tree

Photo by Evan Brandt
Say good bye to this callery pear tree. With a 5-2 vote Tuesday night, borough council approved its removal.

Borough Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to allow a callery pear tree at the corner of Second and Johnson streets to be removed and for another tree to be planted in its place.

The vote came at the request of Janice Monger, the neighbor of 3 W. Second St., who last week appealed the denial of permission to remove the tree to council on behalf of her neighbor.

Photo by Evan Brandt
This tree, across the street from the one council has allowed to be
cut down, lost a branch which hit an occupied vehicle. Luckily,
no one was hurt.
She told council the Bradford pear tree, a species of callery pear, in front of her neighbor's house is considered dangerous by some and that, combined with the branch that fell off a similar tree across the street, was reason enough to allow its removal.

Since council disbanded the shade tree commission, appeals for tree permits now come to them.

Tuesday night's vote came despite points raised by former shade tree commission chairman Tom Hylton that allowing this tree to be taken down because council considers it a dangerous species could lead to a domino effect.

He pointed to a letter from Bran Gunther, the man in the New York City Parks Department in charge of street trees, that indicated a 2005 census showed the city, the largest urban forest on the east coast had planted 65,000 callery pear trees, the fourth most popular.

(Full disclosure, Bram Gunther is this blogger's brother-in-law.)
Photo by Evan Brandt
Although this tree has not been trimmed to reduce the threat of
a branch cracking and falling, PECO has trimmed the top to try to
keep the power lines clear.

If the tree in front of 3 W. Second St. is allowed to be take down simply because of what species it is, "then what do you do about the other six trees on that street? What do you do about the other 400 pear trees on the streets of Pottstown," Hylton asked.

"If you declare them dangerous, then it becomes incumbent upon you to do something about it," he said.

Even more dangerous, said Hylton, are the 10 "very dead" street trees in town. "Dead trees are far more dangerous."

Further, he said, with the coming arrival of the invasive emerald ash borer, Pottstown's 150 street trees that are ash trees will soon be dead as well unless expensive treatments are given to them.

Since 2007 -- when the borough ceased making contributions to Trees Inc., the non-profit organization with which Hylton is affiliated -- which once maintained street trees at no cost to the property owner, no maintenance has been done on the street trees.

Pottstown spent $60,000 since 2005 to maintain its existing trees when Phoenixville, by contrast, spent $415,000, "and we have one-third more than Phoenixville does," Hylton said.

"If you assume that shade trees add 3 percent of the value to property in Pottstown, and that's very conservative, that means they are responsible for $30 million worth of our property value," he said.

"When you look at the cost/benefit, clearly street trees pay for themselves," said Hylton.

Photo by Evan Brandt
One of the benefits of the callery pear trees in town, is how they make Beech Street look in the spring.
He also noted that PennVest, the state's infrastructure loan program, has spent $6 billion in the past 30 years for water and sewer treatment plants, but in recent years have begun to pay municipalities to plant trees as one of the most efficient means of stormwater control -- to the tune of $6.8 million to day.

Council Vice President Jeff Chomnuk, who represents the ward where the tree is located and who, along with Council President Stephen Toroney provided the "no" votes, reminded council and the public that in addition to removing the tree, the property owner is responsible for stump removal and sidewalk remediation.

Councilman Joseph Kirkland worried about "how we stop this decision from having a domino effect on the street."

Borough Solicitor Charles  D. Garner Jr. noted that the ordinance allows for council to take each appeal "on a case by case basis and how the evidence of the appeal is presented. It does not require you to agree to remove a tree unless you are convinced by the evidence."

However, he noted, this decision will not go unnoticed.

"Don't be fooled, you may have other appeals that will refer to this decision," Garner said.

Before voting, Toroney noted that an assessment of the tree from Todd's Tree Service repeated the information about the tendency of callery pear branches to crack as the trees get older, but noted "he didn't say that the tree should come down or is a danger."

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