At the Township Committee's request, the Bernards Township Shade Tree Commission has drawn up some proposals for how to get property owners to pick up more of the responsibility for planting and maintaining trees alongside public streets.
A new tree ordinance, and some of the provisions that could be included within, is scheduled to be discussed at the Township Committee meeting Tuesday at 8 p.m. Randy Santoro, chairman of the Shade Tree Commission, said he will be there as officials take a look at the lengthy report and suggested tree ordinance that is linked on Tuesday's meeting agenda.
The proposed ordinance would encourage residents to plant more "street trees" and trees in the public right-of-way on varying widths of property on the the side of public streets, Santoro said. The Shade Tree Commission will draw up a list of trees that would be appropriate for planting along streets, and under power wires, and eventually will post that list on the township website, he said.
Township officials would also like homeowners to remediate any hazardous conditions created by trees in the public right of way, and could potentially bill the property owner if the township is required to trim or remove trees that could create a hazard for the public or public property, he said. Those trees now are cut back or taken away by the township Department of Public Works.
In general, the idea of having a tree ordinance is mainly a reaction to the hundreds of thousands of dollars and effort the township was forced to spend after extensive tree damage caused by last August's hurricane and the Oct. 29 snowstorm, Santoro said.
The township's public works likely would continue trimming trees that might extend too far into the street, he said.
"The idea was that the town would do some trimming, but in the case of a major snowstorm, the Township Committee is looking to share the burden" of cleaning up, Santoro said.
For his report, Santoro said he looked at an existing ordinance in Summit. That ordinance requires a property owner to remove or trim any tree determined to create a public hazard within 30 to 35 days, or the city will trim or remove the tree, and send a bill.
"We tried to modify that somewhat," Santoro said on Monday night.
"Adopting an ordinance like the one in Summit would mark a significant departure from current practice in Bernards Township," said his March 26 report to the Township Committee.
"The STC (Shade Tree Commission) believes that sudden changes to long-established policies and practices become increasingly more difficult to implement smoothly the more they upset settled expectations of township property owners," the report continued.
"Ultimately, the degree of cooperation to be expected from property owners is probably inversely related to the increased costs borne by the property owner and that person’s perception as to whether the related actions are reasonable and necessary or merely arbitrary in nature." The township also could incur further enforcement costs, and resistance from residents who believe such costs should be covered by the township budget, the report noted.
The report suggested that residents might be more willing to share the costs for alleviating hazardous tree conditions caused by unusual storms such as those that hit the region in 2011, with the understanding that such expenses would be "infrequent."
Any suggestions in his report are tentative, and are being placed before the Township Committee for further discussion, Santoro said.
Some of the clauses within the proposed tree ordinance would simply formalize requirements that already are in place, Santoro said. For example, a homeowner cannot simply remove a "street tree" or tree in the public right of way, no matter whether it was planted by the township, a developer or a resident, he said. To do so, a resident first must seek permission from a panel of members from the Shade Tree Commission, he said.
"We are trying to manage how the town looks," he said.
Earlier this year, township officials flatly refused to plant more trees in public right of way properties, as suggested by the Shade Tree Commission, on the basis of cost.
Another proposal on agenda for planting more trees on public property
But a separate proposal on the agenda on Tuesday would call for the planting of more trees on public property, Santoro said.
For example, he said that planting trees alongside schools would help keep the buildings shaded and cooler in hot months, and would also help shield the schools from winter winds.