Ordinance speak for the trees

Princeton Council adopted an ordinance concerning trees and shrubs last Monday night. The ordinance, which was amended to exempt certain trees, passed 5-1. Also included was an amendment that prohibits contractors from disturbing any soil within a tree protection zone. The ordinance, aimed to protect Princeton’s tree canopy, was introduced in July and pushed from August until Sept. 12.

Councilman Bernard Miller, liaison to the Shade Tree Commission, explained Princeton has been designated a “tree city” for 20 years and is, for that reason, required to uphold certain responsibilities.

The ordinance modifies the replacement requirement when property owners take down a tree to make it more proportional – i.e., larger tree removal may require planting numerous trees in its place.

Individuals not willing or unable to plant new tree(s) will have the option to donate a tree to municipal property or make a contribution to the STC. If the ordinance is violated, an individual may ultimately be brought to court and fined.

The exempt trees would include those posing danger to life or property, those that have already fallen from storm damage and those that have died or are substantially diseased due to natural causes such as the Emerald Ash Borer, one of the catalysts for the ordinance. Other exemptions include trees part of a pending application for preservation plan approval by the Preservation Commission and any trees part of an approved woodland management program.

“Would a photo emailed from a resident of a dead tree suffice? Because it seems like if we encouraged that, it would save a lot of time of you having to go out to properties and see if a dead tree is dead? It seems like it might be a good tradeoff for all the time it takes?” Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller asked Princeton Arborist Lorraine Konopka.

While a time-saver and cost-cutting suggestion such as this would be beneficial, Konopka said there are too many specifics to accept photos and grant permission solely through e-mail. She will go directly to approve tree removals.

STC wanted to draft the ordinance so the public could be included in the discussion regarding concerns of Emerald Ash Borer or West Elm Disease.

“The intent was to get more transparency, more clarity, more information out to the public. The process could have been done administratively or by resolution in one meeting,” Miller said.

Some residents, such as Peter Madison, were supportive of Councilman Patrick Simon’s reservations and wary of the ordinance and costs it would incur.

“Some homeowners, such as I, have been not only planting trees but preserving the trees we have … This is not addressed at all in your ordinance. A restrictive ordinance is only going to encourage some homeowners to hire unlicensed and uninsured individuals and contractors to remove trees without a permit,” Madison said. “My suggestion is to continue with the current ordinance and apply it to homeowners and apply the proposed ordinance for tree replacement only for new construction, additions or cutting for teardowns or undeveloped lots. There’s a huge amount of time here about what a healthy tree is – it’s going to become a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Wendy Maeger, president of Friends of Princeton Open Space, expressed her concern of the arborist’s comments about how many trees had already been cut down.

“I think the increase is pretty unsettling and certainly lends credence to the thinking behind introducing and hopefully passing this ordinance. I understand it’s always hard for us to give up autonomy in management of our property, but I think we have to be mindful … I think our environment of many trees is a common asset that we really need to act to protect.”

Simon was the lone member of council to vote against the ordinance.

In other news:

Council tabled an ordinance to change overnight parking in the areas of John and Race streets and well as Birch and Leigh avenues in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. At present, it is free for residents to park in these areas – abiding by former township rules. The ordinance will open the conversation of making residents pay for parking permits only if they do not have a driveway. Permits for only one car per household is what is on the proposal, not to go into effect until January 2018.


About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida