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Nuisance Tree Stumps City

Tree removal moratorium leaves home-owner between a root and a hard place.

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Fan resident David Robinson has a tree problem — specifically, with the large, city-owned American elm tree that rises adjacent to his late-19th-century home at Plum Street and Floyd Avenue. Robinson says the tree's roots have caused pedestrians to trip, substantially raised his concrete patio and fence and infiltrated the foundation of his house.

But there's a problem: Richmond has a moratorium on removing trees.

So Robinson took his tree problem to his councilman, Charles Samuels, who introduced an ordinance March 8 legislating that the city remove the tree and replace it, citing a hazard to pedestrians, the effect of the tree's roots on the city-owned sidewalk and the “displacing” of Robinson's property. According to Samuels' law, the removal of the tree would take place “notwithstanding” the citywide moratorium on tree removal adopted in 2008.

Several requests for comment from Samuels were not returned by press time.

Exemptions to the city's tree-removal moratorium include situations in which a tree is dead or deemed “a hazard to life or property,” “a danger to public safety,” a “public nuisance” or otherwise “expos[ing] the City to liability.”

But the city's tree policy adopted in 1992 stipulates that trees “that cause sidewalks to be raised shall be preserved whenever possible,” and that the removal of a tree “that is contrary to the City Arborist's recommendation” must be paid for by the property owner.

Samuels' ordinance notes that a city arborist has deemed the American elm next to Robinson's house as healthy, but does not mention whether the arborist recommended whether the tree should be removed. City officials didn't respond to questions about the city's tree-removal policy by press time.

According to a March 3 memo from Steven Taylor, a City Council policy analyst, the price of the city removing a tree costs “between $1,500 and $2,700,” and the cost of planting a replacement tree varies.

Robinson says he's willing to contribute money for a replacement tree that's larger than the typical sapling. Samuels' ordinance states that a replacement tree has already been funded by “a citizen.”

In the meantime, Robinson has distributed letters to neighbors, commissioned a structural engineer, who found two small dead tree roots in a basement wall, to issue a report about the tree's effect on his house, and physically stopped a city crew from grinding the roots of the tree.

Robinson says he's open to solutions other than removing the tree, but that his requests for more dialogue with the city and neighbors have gone unheeded.

Nina Conway, whose house on Plum Street abuts the back of Robinson's property, opposes the removal of the tree, saying its height and the large reach of its branches keep the area around her house about 20 degrees cooler in the summertime. Plus, she says, “If you … subtract that tree, it's an ugly corner.”

Conway planned to attend the public hearing for Samuels' tree ordinance, which was scheduled for March 22 at 6 p.m., after Style went to press.

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