Residents: City trees damaged sidewalks

The city planted the trees.

The trees heaved the sidewalks.

The city threatened fines if the sidewalks weren’t fixed.

But the city won’t allow removal of those trees without special approval and professional handling.

At City Council Wednesday, Bob Howard and Chick Grant, who own property on Eighth Street in Little Italy, portrayed themselves victims of that difficult scenario, and it didn’t take long for council to take their side.

The trees are Bradford pears, planted as part of a streetscape project between Sixth Avenue and the top of the hill overlooking Pleasant Valley.

Their white flowers in the spring look nice, but they were the wrong trees for an urban street, said Planning Director Lee Slusser.

Planted in 1983, they’ve lifted sidewalk slabs as high as six inches, making it impossible for wheelchairs to negotiate the walks and creating a liability hazard for property owners in terms of accessibility and injury, Howard and Grant told council.

It’s hardly fair that the Code Department recently ordered residents to fix those walks, given the city’s having planted the trees that broke them, they said.

It’s especially galling, given the gateway ordinance that requires property owners to get permission from the Shade Tree Commission before trimming or removing the trees and the need to have any work done by a professional, they said.

“How you fix something you’re not allowed to touch is beyond me,” Grant said.

Legally, the sidewalks are the property owners’ responsibility, countered interim City Manager Omar Strohm.

But the residents “have a good point,” said Mayor Bill Schirf.

The Codes Department hasn’t filed citations and has desisted with its notices of violations, Strohm said.

Couldn’t the city at least consider paying some of the cost to correct the problem? Grant asked.

“I’m not unreasonable,” he said.

But the city is in financial distress, officials said.

The Shade Tree Commission lacks the funds to do all the tree removal, maintenance and planting that it wants, Slusser said.

What about Broad Avenue, which is set to receive a new row of trees soon, the residents asked.

That project is largely the responsibility of PennDOT, the result of faulty pruning in preparation for a contracted paving project, officials said.

Still, something needs done on Eighth Street, and perhaps Seventh, it’s one-way twin, they said.

So officials will work with the commission and try to work them into a streetscape program.

Meanwhile, the code staff also needs oversight to eliminate the kind of narrow-view, rules-based enforcement represented by the notices of violation the residents complained about, said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

“You’re probably nicer than I would have been,” Butterbaugh told them.

“All I’m looking for is a mutual resolution,” Grant said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.