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Cleveland makes it easier to save sidewalk-busting trees

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 11/7/2022 Courtney Astolfi, cleveland.com
Weeds and trash - mostly plastic water bottles - line the Opportunity Corridor as seen on Thursday, July 28, 2022.  Weeds can be seen encroaching on the sidewalks. David Petkiewicz, cleveland.com © David Petkiewicz cleveland.com/cleveland.com/TNS Weeds and trash - mostly plastic water bottles - line the Opportunity Corridor as seen on Thursday, July 28, 2022. Weeds can be seen encroaching on the sidewalks. David Petkiewicz, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland City Council on Monday night approved a new rule that’s intended to make it easier to save mature trees during city-led sidewalk projects.

The rule-change, proposed by council, will allow city crews and residents to skip a cumbersome bureaucratic process each time a homeowner wants to save a tree in the public right-of-way that would otherwise need to be felled when laying new sidewalk or replacing existing sidewalk.

As it currently stands, the city often must trim a tree’s sprawling roots to construct or repair sidewalks. If the city’s Urban Forestry Department determines the trimming is too extensive and would irreparably harm the tree, the city opts to cut it down in its entirety, so as not to leave behind a dying tree.

To avoid that process and reroute a sidewalk around a tree and its roots, the city could seek to obtain an easement from the neighboring homeowner, to place the sidewalk on part of their property.

But in those cases, city officials must seek individual, weeks-long approvals from City Council anytime a homeowner is willing to grant an easement.

That leaves gravel-filled patches in front yards for extended periods of time, while easement requests work their way through council’s approval process, Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects Director James DeRosa recently told council’s Municipal Services and Properties Committee.

Historically, the city has rarely sought such easements, a council attorney told the committee.

The legislation approved at Monday night’s meeting would eliminate the need for individual council approval for each property granting the easement. If approved, the new rule would allow City Hall to enter into easement agreements without council approval.

DeRosa made it clear that the rule has no effect on property owners who do not want sidewalk placed on a portion of their land. The new rule would only go into effect when homeowners want to save the tree and actively agree that the sidewalk can be re-routed onto their property, he said.

The city could release the easement after five years have passed since the sidewalk installation.

If a tree dies or is eventually removed, the property owner could pay to construct the sidewalk within the right-of-way or remove the sidewalk from the easement area, according to council records.

The rule-change is part of broader efforts by City Council and Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration to stem the continued loss of Cleveland’s tree canopy.

DeRosa said the city is also exploring other types of sidewalk materials it could use — which don’t penetrate the ground as deeply as concrete and could help avoid the destruction of additional trees — in cases where owners don’t want to grant an easement.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit cleveland.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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