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Norwalk Council moves revised tree ordinance to finish line

A view of Norwalk’s tree canopy, from Westport Avenue.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members are set to approve a new tree ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This new ordinance fleshes out the duties more fully for both the tree Warden and the tree Advisory Committee. The ordinance regulates how tree planting, pruning and removal shall be accomplished on city properties and how improper removals and printings will be mitigated,” Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) said Oct. 19.

New tree plantings or money deposited into a new Norwalk tree account will be required as mitigation, she said. The account will also be able to accept grant monies or donations, and it could be used “to fund canopy and inventory assessments, the creation of a new master tree plan” and to buy and install trees.

“Other revisions will require the protection of city trees during construction and how utilities will work with a tree warden when they want to prune or remove trees on below the power lines,” Shanahan said.

Conversation at the Oct. 19 meeting revolved largely over two requests made by non-Council members. Larry Losio was concerned that legacy trees on private property could become an issue, as they might need to be removed after they’re certified as a legacy tree and he didn’t think homeowners should be penalized for that, he said. Tree Advisory Commission member Peter Viteretto spoke of tree “topping,” as the drafted ordinance sought to penalize people for altering a tree “so severely that is unlikely to survive,” but a topped tree can survive while losing much of its function.

The ordinance establishes a legacy tree program under the authority of the Tree Advisory Committee.

“What we’re really looking to do is get homeowners to voluntarily enroll their private trees that might have unique or intrinsic value because of size, age, historic association, ecological importance or aesthetic value,” Shanahan said. “…We’re not regulating legacy trees on private property.”

The tree warden will keep a record of all legacy trees and the list will be available to the public, the ordinance state.

“Topping” was a thornier issue, as the debate centered on the definition of “alter.”

Norwalk Tree Warden Chris Torre agreed that topping is a problem and “unfortunately it’s too late” once the pruning has been done.

“If it’s severely pruned, you will not shade the streets you will not achieve what you know carbon sequestration won’t heat production, but the tree will survive,” Viteretto said.
“We’re planting these trees to grow the canopy and if people are improperly pruning them it’s detracting from them being part of the overall Norwalk canopy,” Tree Advisory Committee Chairwoman Erica Kipp said.

“We’re getting into a conversation about whether a tree is going to live or die, when honestly, we should be trying to discourage any resident from pruning any city tree on their own. Like that’s the intent of this, is to stop the practice altogether,” Torre said.

 

The Committee decided not to get into the weeds of that description in the ordinance, to leave it to the Tree Warden’s judgment. Viteretto’s and Kipp’s comments should be in an advisory document, Shanahan said.

The public will also be encouraged to help plant trees and shrubs in public places, and first required to submit an application to the Tree Advisory Committee. If the application is approved and the work done, the tree or shrub will become City property.

Utility companies seeking to alter public trees or shrubs will need to seek approval from the tree warden 30 days before the work is to begin, under the ordinance.

Violations can result in a civil penalty equal to a maximum three times the value of the tree or shrub, plus legal costs and fees, the ordinance states.

“We’ve come a long way I think this is a tremendous improvement over our existing ordinance and I think it really shows how important we as a council view trees for the city and I think it’s a great sign,” Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.

“I’m hoping that this ordinance update will help the city and its residents view trees as assets instead of liabilities, and inconveniences,” said Oak Hills Park Nature Advisory Committee member Audrey Cozzarin, as a public speaker. “I hope that city of Norwalk can be leaders in restoration, and protect habitats, and be more cautious about further development projects in Norwalk… you know, without Mother Earth, we have nothing.”

One comment

Brad Craighead October 26, 2021 at 6:09 am

Wonderful that the City and some of its Leaders care so deeply about our trees and are eager to invest in and expand the tree canopy.

In my view, the media could provide substantially more coverage on this topic – it’s all part of enhancing the Quality of Life for all Norwalkers.

Outdoor Space, Complete Streets and the increased quantity and quality of Greenery are consistent with the themes of Walkability, Livability and Desirability.

My wife Tracy and I recently became Tree Liaisons for the Norwalk Tree Planting Program on behalf of the Norwalk Green Neighborhood – only after enquiring about a large tree removal at the center of the East Ave / Wall St / Park St intersection to make way for the new traffic light system.

As Neighborhood Tree Liaisons, we will approach property owners along East Ave and Park St and encourage them to support the planting of specimen trees to create a consistent canopy and beltway of greenery from the East Norwalk Cemetery to Route 1/Westport Avenue.

Sponsored by the Norwalk Tree Advisory Committee, this amazing City program is available to everyone and has apparently been around for years.

Bradford P. Craighead
Norwalk Green Association
Norwalk Green Living Properties

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