If the preliminary plan goes through, Ridgewood will stop planting trees in the right-of-way while requiring residents who remove their own trees to either replace them or pay into a tree fund.
Following months of discussion and now under the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy, the Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee (REAC) offered their official recommendations to the council, largely modeled by Hanover's shade tree policy.
Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, the REAC liaison, said under the plan Ridgewood would stop planting trees in the public right-of-way, as Sandy exposed key infrastructure shortcomings. Sidewalks and streets sustained considerable damage since there isn't space for the trees to grow.
“We’ve got a real big problem,” she said.
But that doesn't mean the village will rip up existing trees in the right-of-ways or force the public to take ownership of them. “They would be our continued responsibility,” she noted.
The other major component of the plan is likely to elicit more controversy.
As part of the drafted ordinance, restrictions on what residents can do with their own trees would be enacted.
Should a property owner choose to remove four trees, they would be required to either replace those lost trees elsewhere on the property or pay into a town-wide tree trust fund, Walsh said. What amount property owners would have to pay in has not yet been determined.
“We want to put some parameters on if you take it out you have to put this back in,” Walsh said.
Parks and Recreation, as well as Engineering staff, would help develop a list as to what trees would be most appropriate for planting at individual sites.
If passed, it would impact applications at the planning and zoning boards, as well as the building department.
An extension of the trust fund idea, Walsh said REAC has aims to create a separate tree endowment fund with some lucky residents winning a "lottery" for a tree already budgeted.
Further, if some trees are considered a public danger – dead or atop electrified wires – the village could force their removal.
As Sandy demonstrated, a comprehensive shade tree policy will require cooperation with PSE&G.
Walsh said she's hopeful the utility will agree to ID problem trees as they do their line work. Typically, if a utility worker sees a tree that's dead or hazardous, they leave a flier on the resident's door listing PSE&G's tree removal vendor. The hope would be, Walsh said, the village's tree vendor would be listed instead.
All of these factors would be buoyed by REAC and Ridgewood's Green Team having a larger presence in town.
The council will continue to discuss particulars of the plan at upcoming meetings.