Hampstead council talks bonds, considers sidewalk issues caused by street trees

Alex Mann
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

The Town of Hampstead’s mayor and council discussed the complicated relationship between trees and their neighboring sidewalks during their monthly meeting.

Councilman Wayne Thomas, who’s served on the elected body 25 years, proposed that his council colleagues consider increasing the Hampstead Tree Commission’s yearly budget by $7,000. The proposal, Thomas wrote in a proposal to his colleagues, aims to “better support street trees and their impacts to sidewalks.”

When Hampstead began a housing expansion in the 1980s, it adopted a street tree policy, Thomas wrote. “Developers were required to plant trees in the Town’s right-of-way between the curb line and the sidewalks.”

But the problem with such street trees is that when their base and roots expand they sometimes damage the sidewalks and uneven sidewalks are hazardous.

Giving the developer the decision meant that it was likely they would pursue the most economical tree selection, Thomas told the Times after the Tuesday, Sept. 11 meeting. “Cheap trees are the worst ones (for the sidewalks).”

Homeowners are responsible for the trees and sidewalks, Thomas explained. They are liable if somebody trips and falls because of an uneven sidewalk, said Tammi Ledley, the town manager.

Facing such liability, homeowners usually decide to negate the problem by removing the street trees, Thomas said at the meeting. “That’s not why we planted trees, to have ‘em cut down.”

Enter Thomas’ solution, in which part of the increased tree commission budget would pay to repair and replace sidewalks and professionally maintain the trees. The extra money will also support an effort to create an inventory of all the street trees. As proposed, the inventory would document the trees’ health, location and the condition of adjacent sidewalks.

Councilman Joseph Renehan pushed back on Thomas’ proposal by offering a hypothetical situation where he was a homeowner responsible for a street tree in front of their house.

“If I want to cut it down because it’s bringing up the sidewalk and that’s the resolution to it,” Renehan asked, “why can’t I cut it down?”

It’s a town tree so the homeowner is supposed to get permission from the tree commission, Thomas said, and the tree isn’t always responsible for the sidewalk damage.

But the town doesn’t have any liability, if someone were to trip on the sidewalk in front of Renehan’s hypothetical house, he rebutted, “they’re pointing the finger at me and they’re going to sue me,” not the town.

“The tree commission can’t really do anything about that,” Renehan added.

Thomas explained that the tree commission would likely allow the homeowner to remove the tree, he said. But the commission would require that the homeowner replant a tree in the same space.

“I think this is an overreach on tree commission,” Renehan said. “Especially when it’s in front of somebody’s house … you’re asking a lot of a homeowner.”

Thomas responded: “Part of what I was proposing is that the town share the cost of replacing the sidewalk.”

Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin intervened in the respectful debate. Part of the debate comes down to additional capital and operating money, he said. Suggesting that the town kick the tree sapling down the road and revive the discussion when its crafting the FY 2020 budget.

The council meeting wasn’t only about trees, though.

Council unanimously approved commercial paver M.T. Laney Company Inc.’s bid of $114,130.70 to pave and repair 11 town roads. M.T. Laney offered Hampstead the lowest quote, beating out C.J. Miller, LLC’s bid of just below $170,000.

The lawmakers also approved a new ordinance that calls for the town to take out a $651,000 bond for street lights to augment the Main Street Revitalization effort.

“It’s a 15-year straight-line, advertising bond,” Nevin detailed.

“Basically we have a bond coming off the police station next year,” the mayor explained. “And this bond will go on, so it really won’t make a difference in the expenditures of the town.”

alex.mann@carrollcountytimes.com

667-367-4291

twitter.com/alex_mann10

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