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Shade tree ordinance proposed changes raise concerns

“I think that I shall never see ... A poem lovely as a tree.” wrote Joyce Kilmer in the well-known poem, “Trees,” first published in 1914.

Some Salisbury Township residents might prefer the poem.

The trees, you see, are getting out of hand. They are old, overgrown, potentially dangerous in a storm and then there are the acorns.

A petition signed by 20 residents of western Salisbury who live in the vicinity of Lindberg Park supports changes in the township shade tree ordinance proposed by Salisbury Township Assistant Manager Sandy Nicolo.

What changes might be in the offing for the ordinance is uncertain. The tree ordinance is expected to be a topic on the agenda of the next environmental council meeting, 7 p.m. Sept. 16.

A lively discussion about trees took up most of the one-hour Aug. 19 environmental advisory council meeting held via Zoom with 15 participants listed.

“The commissioners didn’t want to handle shade trees because everyone wanted to appeal. And it took a lot of time,” Nicolo began.

“What prompted me to do this is the enforcement. It feels it’s the township versus the residents,” Nicolo said. Nicolo is the township code enforcement officer.

Nicolo said the tree ordinance presents problems for township officials, in terms of enforcement, as well as for residents, in terms of safety at their properties.

“I don’t have the numbers, but 100 percent of the people don’t want to replant,” Nicolo explained.

“When they get to the point of having property damage, especially the elderly people, they don’t want to replant.”

The ordinance requires residents to plant a tree to replace a tree after it’s removed.

“A lot of times people don’t even know they need a permit [to remove a tree]. It’s an enforcement issue,” Nicolo continued.

“The guy who calls in is penalized. A lot of times people don’t know or don’t care,” Nicolo said.

Nicolo emphasized he’s not proposing changes to the township subdivision and land development ordinance, which requires trees to be planted at new construction.

Nor, Nicolo said, is he proposing changes to the township logging ordinance.

“The replanting of trees is part of the street tree ordinance,” township resident Michael Benning said.

“My concern is with trees that are not street trees. However, there are limits to the ordinance,” Benning continued.

“There was a lot of work put into that ordinance. Trees are a very big part of Salisbury Township, especially on South Mountain. There should be a limit on what can be done. The township should be proactive on encouraging residents to take care of trees,” Benning said.

“I cannot see eliminating the ordinance and allow people to cut all the trees down,” Benning concluded.

“I’m more concerned with the densely-populated parts of the township with an acre or less,” Nicolo said.

“If you don’t want to pick up leaves, don’t live here,” Benning said.

“We should be educating people about keeping trees,” Jane Benning, a member of the advisory council and Michael Benning’s wife, said.

“Maybe in the conservation district areas, it [the ordinance] should be more restrictive and less restrictive in the more densely-populated areas,” Nicolo offered.

“The question of replacing trees seems to be limited to street trees, which is a separate area,” Michael Benning said.

“It sounds like the oak trees should be cut down and then discretion should be allowed in those incidences,” Michael Benning said.

“The trees have gotten very old and very dangerous,” township resident David Miler said.

“The wind storms are very dangerous. We would like to be able to cut them down at will. And it’s starting to bring deer into the area because of the acorns,” Miller said. “Many people slip and fall on the acorns.”

“After a heavy storm, you can’t drive our street until somebody removes the limbs. It’s become a real hazard to the area. What used to be a safe, shaded street, is hazardous. They have outlived their usefulness,” Chet DiRomualdo said.

“I have landscaped my property, more than compensating for these dying oak trees,” DiRomualdo said. “You do have to look at what people have done to their lots and what they’ve provided.”

“Back in March, I received a letter that I would need to plant six trees. I love trees,” township resident Stephen Bonnet said.

“But I asked why do I need to plant more trees? I have a lot of trees.”

“I’m here on behalf of my mother,” Adrian Zenshetti said. “There are a lot of aging oaks. Most of the trees were removed because they were dying off.

“One of her street trees was dying. We had an arborist come out. We had to cut it. It isn’t cheap to do this. If there are other trees planted on the property, I feel that’s enough to offset a street tree,” Zenshetti said.

“I feel there are exceptions that should be made.

“If there is a requirement to plant a tree, it becomes a matter of where does the tree go? It becomes an issue of a tree planted 10 feet from another tree, which could become a problem down the road,” Zenshetti said.

“That is the case with many of these,” Nicolo said. “Maybe a street tree will come down, but they have a lot of other trees and shrubs planted.”

“I would think that before a decision is made there should be a public meeting,” Jane Benning said.

“The commissioners didn’t want to handle shade trees because everyone wanted to appeal. And it took a lot of time,” Nicolo said.

“I will get back to drawing board and we’ll have more meetings to hammer this out before I present something at a board of commissioners workshop.”

The residents’ petition had signatures of township residents who live along Oldstone Road and Pembroke Court in western Salisbury.

The petition states: “We the residents of Salisbury Township, Oldstone Road, are here to fully support the proposed changes to the current tree ordinance as presented by Sandy Nicolo, township code enforcement officer.

The petition goes on to state that “oak trees lining our street have become way overgrown and have become a problem to the neighborhood and its residents for years.”

Problems cited in the petition include: height of the trees, proximity of the trees, root base, trees leaning unsafely, decaying trees, large branches falling and acorns.

According to the petition, “Most of our neighborhood consists of seniors with limited physical abilities and, in some cases, limited financial means.”

Also, the petition states, the overgrown oak trees “take water and sunlight away from beautiful landscaping.”

The petition claims the township ordinance requiring tree replacement is impractical and unaffordable because of large tree stumps left behind.

“You cannot grind deep enough to plant a tree over top and you cannot remove the stump without significant damage to the curbing, road and driveways.

“The alternative of planting a tree in between existing trees to avoid the stump will place it too close to the remaining trees.”

Concludes the petition, “The ordinance, and the expenses it creates, actually causes some residents to not remove damaged and decayed trees to avoid the burden, thus creating potential hazards.”

The petition was signed by Chet DiRomualdo. The township website lists DiRomualdo as a member of the Salisbury Township Building Code Board of Appeals.