Tree trimming regulations cause confusion in Des Moines

By Shakira Ericksen

The current ordinance regarding tree-trimming is too vague, the new one could be the most restrictive one in the state-- if anyone could truly understand it.

The ordinance was sent back to committee for further review. Most people were not opposed to tree trimming rather they were opposed to the ordinance. Audience members asked for a simpler version, one that clearly stated when permits were needed and what permits would cost.

A public hearing was held at last Thursday’s Des Moines City Council meeting where confusion about the 47 page code was evident. Many that chose to speak could not fully articulate their objections as they found the code overly complex, unclear and confusing.

Councilmembers Melissa Musser and Bob Sheckler were strong supporters of the ordinance citing science and strenuous objection to tree topping.
“I’ve tried for weeks to find an argument where topping trees is good,” said Councilmember Musser. “I will agree to the end of days that tree topping is bad, so we can send this back to committee five or six times but I will not support tree topping in any way shape or form.”

Councilmember Jeanette Burrage said that there were several definitions of tree topping, some of them were pruning around the tops of trees and others were removing the complete top of a tree.

“I’m very much like Melissa if someone is going to keep throwing in my face bad science you can do that all day long and it’s not going to affect me. I believe that topping trees is bad and it’s not going to work,” said Councilmember Sheckler.

There were several arguments made for and against tree topping.
“We wanted to provide more clarity, our attempt was clarity,” said Planning Manager and presenter Denise Lathrop.

Lathrop repeated several times that clarity was the goal of the ordinance.

“I spent three evenings going through this over and over trying to make some sense out of it,” said resident David Elliot. “It’s one of the least clear things I’ve ever read.”

Elliot said that even after listening to the presentation he was still unclear about the ordinance.

“I want to be able to take care of my own property without worrying about if I’m breaking the law,” said resident Karl Vogel.

Vogel said that he had read the ordinance and was still unsure about which activities would require a permit.

Councilmembers Burrage and Vic Pennington along with Mayor Pro Tem Matt Pina voted against passing it in its current state.

Councilmember Musser said that many people did not understand the ordinance, which is why they were against it.

“The ordinate is very unclear to ordinary homeowners,” said Councilmember Burrage. “If there is a new ordinance it should be about trimming trees not about development.”

“There are questions that I asked tonight that I didn’t get an answer for,” said Mayor Pro Tem Pina. “It’s hard for me to make a decision on this topic without understanding the ramifications.”

Mayor Pro Tem Pina said he had read the ordinance several times and still had unanswered questions. He asked for a second reading.
“This is a tough situation, you’re looking at a balance between having healthy vegetation and citizens property rights,” said Mayor Pro Tem Pina. “Where our code is void we have to find a solution.”

Mayor Dave Kaplan said that the problem under state law is that ordinances are obligated to be consistent and wording it in a simpler fashion is part of the challenge council has. He asked
“This has nothing to do with trimming bushes or cutting trees on your own property it has everything to do with cutting trees in critical areas or on the shoreline,” said Mayor Kaplan.

The next Des Moines City Council meeting will be on Thursday June 5, at 7:00 p.m.

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