One More Tree or One Less Garden?
May 20, 2014 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I woke up this morning to find a sign indicating that in the next couple of days the city will be planting a tree in front of my house. While trees are great, the tree will likely shade one or more of my raised beds that I use to grow food. What can I do to stop the installation of this tree? More details inside...

I looked at the city website and it appears the DPW is responsible for city trees. The website also says that normally only a property owner can request a tree be placed in front of their house. So I called up the DPW to see what was up. They gave me a schpiel about how it was a such and so green project. I told them it was likely to make it impossible for me to grow vegetables in my existing garden. They then explained to me that the tree will be small. However, I've seen the small trees they've planted elsewhere lately and they still grow to be about 2 stories tall and will likely throw significant shade.

After some back and forth, they said that this was part of some city-wide initiative and that there was nothing they could do unless the mayor's office told them otherwise. I said the sign said it would start tomorrow, but they said it would likely just be dig-safe marking and it wouldn't start for a couple of days.

So I called the mayor's office but they basically gave me the same schpiel about how it was such and so green project. They also said that while people requested not having trees installed that they usually did not grant such a request. After explaining that this would prevent me from gardening and I'd be OK if the tree were moved somewhere else on the block, I was told that they would talk to somebody in the DPW about possibly moving the tree. They took my name and number and said that they would call me back.

Well, they haven't called back, and the dig-safe folks have already marked the street. So as far as I can tell, there is nothing stopping the DPW from coming in tomorrow to put in a tree. I feel like I've been given the run-around and at no point was I ever given any input into this happening until it was basically too late to do anything about it.

It appears that a tree will be put in and then there will be "facts on the ground" and I'll have to fight to get a tree removed instead of preventing it from getting installed.

I'm thinking of going to the mayor's office in person tomorrow morning to see if anything can be done as I really do not want to lose my ability to grow a vegetable garden in my front yard.

Is there anything else I can do besides trying to persuade the mayor or whatever lackey will see me tomorrow? I suspect I'm just going to get the same brush off. Is there some kind of legal and/or media escalation to stop or reverse this? Or am I basically SOL?
posted by delicious-luncheon to Law & Government (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does your city have some sort of council, with individual council members representing subsections of the city? If so, figure out which member is yours and call his/her office and ask for help.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:08 PM on May 20, 2014

Are you allowed to maintain the tree? It seems like they'd foist that responsibility on the resident. With some intentional pruning, it's entirely possible to have a tree that remains small and doesn't grow to shade your garden.

If the city tree planting is anything like that of the cities I've lived in, they plunk the tree down and never do a thing to maintain it after the initial planting. Many just grow in an unruly fashion and then get butchered by the utilities when they start interfering with power lines.
posted by quince at 6:14 PM on May 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes, our city has Aldermen. That's a good idea. Maybe I'll call my Alderman or show up tomorrow and see what they can do.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 6:16 PM on May 20, 2014

I'm not sure but I suspect that the city maintains the trees for better or worse. I've seen them plant plenty of these small trees elsewhere and a few of them fail pretty spectacularly...and then they remain failed. So I guess if there's nothing I can do via government channels I can just hope they do a poor job and the tree doesn't take?

I really wish they would just plant it up the block where there is a neighbor that basically has a huge paved yard. They really have no need for any sunlight.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 6:18 PM on May 20, 2014

Will the tree actually be on your property, or on public land? If it's on your property, well, it's pretty easy to poison a tree.
posted by Houstonian at 6:29 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Talking to an Alderman is probably the best way to go. Be prepared to be foisted off with the same spiel you got before, be firm and polite and offer a solution, the less actual work they have to do the more likely they are to do it. Remember crazy ranting people are much easier for them to ignore, not that I think you are either.

I know it's no help but I have seen a similar problem solved with an accident while spray weeds in the pavement with Round up a few months later. Newly planted trees die all the time.
posted by wwax at 6:32 PM on May 20, 2014

However, I've seen the small trees they've planted elsewhere lately and they still grow to be about 2 stories tall and will likely throw significant shade.

Regularly pruning the tree yourself, or it having *ahem* an accident where RoundUp might be involved will be orders of magnitude less work and frustration than trying to stop the thing from being planted. I would go for option 1, personally, but option 2 is very popular around my parts, too.
posted by smoke at 6:39 PM on May 20, 2014

The tree will be on the sidewalk, which is public here.

I suppose the solution to offer is for them to move it up the block. There is no tree there, the neighbor has a paved yard, and the city gets to plant their tree for their green initiative.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 6:46 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stop kicking up a fuss. Have you put anything in writing to the city yet? Do they know you by name or anything??

Let them plant it.

I would cross my fingers it doesn't "take." I might gently help it not thrive by not making a fuss if the neighborhood dog walker's let their dogs pee there, etc..

I probably wouldn't prune it to keep it small EXCEPT if I felt I could lie convincingly that I thought the tree was my responsibility once planted. Not that I expect anyone would notice or care that you are pruning the tree in the first place!

Seriously, stop making a nuisance of yourself! You don't need the attention.

You're right. They plant a lot of trees. A percentage will fail.

Of you irritate someone, it's more likely the tree at your address will be singled out for special treatment.

Sorry. I wish I had better advice. Small governments can be weird. My take is that if they exempt you, a WHOLE heap of complaints and lawsuits will come their way... So there is zero chance you'll get this exemption without your own lawsuit.

I'm usually feisty, but your easier course of action is to let the tree get planted and hope every dog in the neighborhood contaminates the soil and keeps the tree from thriving or otherwise becoming a full grown problem for you.

Don't pull the trigger by escalating to your alderman unless you are ready for the negative attention and a war of attrition over this, got it?
posted by jbenben at 7:15 PM on May 20, 2014

I would replant it wherever it's convenient to you. A tree a few metres away will garner a lot less attention than no tree at all, they will just assume it was planted there deliberately. Should anyone raise it with you, inform them that you called their office and told them that you had a garden bed it would be obstructing and asked to have it moved elsewhere on the block and no one got back to you to say you couldn't. They still have their tree, you have your garden, win win. I doubt it will ever get that far though. As long as there is tree regardless of its exact location, you should be fine.

I have a friend in a similar situation where the council planted saplings that would eventually grow to block her million dollar river view. Every home on the street was getting one. Well, she just pulled it up after they planted it (it was only tiny.) Ten years later, every neighbour's view is blocked but hers and when they ask how it is she doesn't have a tree, and how lucky she is to have her view, she just shrugs and said that it died.
posted by Jubey at 9:48 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Council planted 2 trees in front of a house I lived in. They were unfortunate victims of traffic accidents....repeatedly.... until they died.... eventually.*

The council did not replace them.

20 years later that street is very green with a line of giant trees and some gaps where the trees "failed".

*I do not condone vehicular arboricide and I didn't do it.
posted by jacanj at 9:49 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're not making a pain of yourself. But even if you were, that's not a bad thing in your situation. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Here's what I'd do in your situation:

- Call or visit your alderman, see what s/he can do.
- Try to be home if/when the tree planters come. If they try to plant in front of your house, go talk to them. Be very nice and very confident and "explain" that you've talked to the DPW and the tree is not supposed to go there anymore! Don't lie about DPW's commitment to you, but this way of putting it will create enough confusion to possibly buy some time.
- Go inside and call DPW.

They want to plant this tree there because it's already planned there and it's just easier to go with the plan. Your goal here is to make planting this tree in front of your house more of a hassle than it's worth to them, by being a bit of a squeaky wheel.
posted by lunasol at 4:13 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is the city planting a row of trees, or just a few here or there? If it's not a matching row, could you volunteer to put in a tree or shrub yourself at that spot, and then put in something like a dwarf apple tree or other plant that would meet their "green" requirements but wouldn't grow tall enough to shade your garden?
posted by instamatic at 4:18 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Building on what instamatic said… except I wouldn’t ask. If you can afford it, I would plant a dwarf fruit tree there tomorrow, which you could keep small and which would add to your gardening food supply.
posted by metasarah at 6:28 AM on May 21, 2014

Any chance you are in Milwaukee? We just had a tree planted in front of our house. The DPW were completely willing to work with us and plant the tree that we wanted and specifically requested. I am sure that if I hadn't wanted a tree or wanted it planted elsewhere they would have discussed it with us and been open to it. Also our Alderman is really involved and I would have definitely called him and gotten his assistance if required to get what I wanted. Our neighbors wanted a specific tree that was not in stock and the City allowed them to plant one at their own cost to get the specific species. Perhaps you could propose that- and then get a smaller tree?
posted by sulaine at 6:51 AM on May 21, 2014

So I went in person to city hall. My Alderman wasn't in yet but the receptionist got me in to see the city planner responsible for the project. I think I talked to her on the phone yesterday but I guess going in person makes a difference!

She said there were already some delays and so the tree wasn't going to go in until next week anyway. She was willing to look at another spot near a parking lot she had been thinking of as a replacement. She said she couldn't promise anything but a 1-to-1 swap would be OK.

It sounded like the planning was in and NOT planting a tree would be too much trouble. So having a 1-1 swap available helped. She also didn't want me to talk about this otherwise there would be more people asking and she already seemed a bit busy...but that's fine by me.

I think the key here may have been the in-person follow-up and that I got on it soon enough that the planner was able/willing to do something about it.

So I guess I just need to wait and see how it turns out over the next few weeks.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 6:58 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

That sounds wonderful! However, heed the wise words of Mad-Eye Moody: "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Since you have some positive potential results from the City Planner, make sure that the boots on the ground (DPW) don't plant the two-story tree according to the original plan. Keep an eye out, and make sure that the change (or potential change) flows all the way to your front walk.
posted by China Grover at 8:33 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great! By the way, I'd be careful about the fruit tree idea suggested above. Street trees are chosen very carefully to minimize their likelihood of causing other problems (e.g., roots damaging the sidewalks). Check with the city if you decide to pursue that.
posted by salvia at 8:34 AM on May 21, 2014

Even if I wanted to plant something myself, I couldn't do it anyway. The sidewalk goes right to the road from the edge of my property. The DPW has to tear up a chunk of sidewalk to put the tree in no matter where they put it.

So I think I just need to make sure that the DPW follows through and doesn't plant anything there. If anybody shows up we'll have to say we talked to the planner and they said they weren't going to plant anything in front of my house but would use a different spot. Hopefully, if it comes to that it's a genuine mistake and not part of the "no guarantees" thing.

Having something in writing would have helped. I asked but the planner didn't want to do that...presumably because she wanted to be sure of the other spot to swap the tree to, and because it's one more thing that I might wave around that other people might want, which would make her job harder.

Basically, it seems like her quest is to get the trees and avoid any further issues from people who want trees relocated. I can sympathize, for sure, but I think I have a genuine issue in this case.

The planner did seem like she was going to actually follow-through. So I suspect I only need to worry about potential procedural snafus with the DPW at this point. Hopefully, that won't happen.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 10:24 AM on May 21, 2014

So, the sign came down in front of my house on Friday. Looks like they really will follow through on not putting in the tree. They haven't started planting the trees anywhere else yet, but given that the sign in front of my house was taken down and all the other signs are still up says to me that they really did follow-through on putting it somewhere else.

Of course, I guess I won't be 100% safe until the other trees are planted and I can be sure the DPW won't screw anything up, but assuming that won't happen, I think I'm in good shape.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 10:57 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, they've jack hammered a bunch of spots all over town in preparation for tree planting but nothing in front of my house. So I think we can call this one done!
posted by delicious-luncheon at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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