City approves tree-planting guidelines

MARSHALL — Members of the Marshall City Council approved a new city policy for tree planting on Tuesday afternoon — but not without some questions first. Some council members questioned the wording of parts of the policy, and how it would affect property owners.

The policy proposal was pulled from the consent agenda at the council’s regular meeting so council members could discuss it.

The tree policy offers guidelines for the type, size and spacing of trees that can be planted on the city right of way, said Marshall Planning and Zoning Administrator Jason Anderson. For residential properties, the right of way usually means the boulevard, the space between the public sidewalk and the street curb.

Some of the policies in the proposal cover topics like how far away from street signs, fire hydrants and power poles trees should be planted. Others cover what kinds of trees are allowed to be planted on boulevards. Some kinds of trees can’t tolerate road salt, or have root systems that could damage sidewalks and curbs, city staff said.

The tree policies were drafted to go along with changes to the Marshall city landscaping ordinances that were made at the suggestion of a local task force. The changes, approved in April 2018, got rid of a city ordinance saying trees couldn’t be planted in the public right of way — instead, the trees just needed to comply with a city tree policy.

That was the first thing Marshall council member Glenn Bayerkohler had a question about at Tuesday’s meeting.

“There is the distinction between a policy and an ordinance,” Bayerkohler said. A policy wouldn’t be enforceable in the same way a city ordinance is. But he said some of the proposed tree policy — particularly the guidelines on tree planting and locations — “That tends to look more like an ordinance.” Bayerkohler questioned if the policy should go before the city Legislative and Ordinance Committee.

“In our mind, it’s the policy that the (city) staff follows,” said Assistant Planning and Zoning Administrator Ilya Gutman. Gutman and Anderson said plantings that go against the policy requirements would be addressed on a complaint basis.

Council member James Lozinski said he also thought the planting requirements seemed restrictive. However, he acknowledged the requirements would be part of a city policy, and not an ordinance.

Bayerkohler also said one part of the proposal, which included requirements for how far from the curb and sidewalk should be planted, had confusing wording. The requirement calls for trees to be planted at least three feet from both the curb and sidewalk, but also said “All trees planted between the street curb and the sidewalk shall be centered in that space and no trees shall be planted there if that distance is less than five feet.”

Anderson said city staff intended to make the new tree policies available on the city website, as well as doing some outreach and social media posting on the topic.

After discussion on the proposal, council members voted to approve the new tree policies.