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  • Kevin Elliott

Tree, woodland protection ordinances approved

Bloomfield Hills residents who have foregone land maintenance to the point that it creates potential safety issues may be nudged into taking action under an ordinance amendment approved on Tuesday, March 12, by the Bloomfield Hills City Commission.

Bloomfield Hills City Manager David Hendrickson told commissioners in February that the city's tree and woodland ordinance gives the city's code enforcement department authority to address dead, diseased and dying trees and vegetation on private property only when they cause issues in right-of-way areas. However, he said code enforcement lacked tools to address those issues when they pose a threat to people or property outside of the right-of-way.

Hendrickson said he and the ordinance enforcement department were working with Bloomfield Hills City Attorney Derk Beckerleg to draft an amendment to the ordinance to address the issue.

“We need some language for dead, diseased and dying trees that could be a potential danger for falling on a home, property or a person,” Hendrickson said on Tuesday, March 12, when presenting the amendments to the ordinance to commissioners. “Code enforcement officer John Rogers brought it to my attention, who said he's having some difficulty with compliance. I brought it to Derk (Beckerleg) and he fashioned an ordinance amendment.”

Rogers said there have been a handful of complaints regarding the issue, which mostly comes down to safety.

“Most residents are reasonable and will handle it, but some are stand-offish,” Rogers said. “The biggest issue is personal safety. It's also – I hesitate to say the word – a blight issue, at least in my mind. It's not only trees, but brush, stumps and other vegetation.”

If approved, Rogers said the city would take a “common sense approach” to enforcement, suggesting that large lots consisting of several acres that have fallen trees or brush that don't pose a danger or eyesore wouldn't be a concern.

Commissioner Sarah McClure agreed, suggested adding language to the ordinance amendment that would exempt such areas noted by Rogers from enforcement.

Commissioner Stuart Sherr said he was concerned that the amendments could encroach on private property rights.

“I think it's vague, ambiguous and overreaching, and I question if it's constitutional,” Sherr said, asking whether the language considered compost piles, burn piles and other items that might incorrectly be construed as problematic. “The (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) even says some of these items are habitats. Tree stumps can hold the grade of land in place. I think this could promote arguments between neighbors. … I can't support it. I don't find it necessary.”

Beckerleg said he considered compost piles when crafting the amendments and specifically left out any reference to leaves or compost. He also said there's no issues with the amendment's constitutionality, as municipalities clearly have the authority to enforce codes, and a process exists to notify a property owner prior to entering private property.

“Our code enforcement is known for being reasonable, but on the occasion you have someone who doesn't respond, other than it being in the right-of-way, there's no course of action,” he said. “The idea isn't to require every dead tree be removed, but dead or decaying trees that pose a danger. That's what we are trying to address. The idea isn't to knock on the door and give a ticket, but to talk about the issue and be in a position that if they say they aren't going to do it, you have some kind of remedy.”

Commissioner Michael Coakley said he didn't think the proposal was unreasonable.

“If in the future the city becomes arbitrary in enforcement, it won't be upheld,” he said. “Neighbors don't want to talk to each other about issues, that's true. I think it's a good ordinance. It could be tweaked a little, but nobody is going to be heavy-handed about enforcing it.”

The commission voted 4-1 to approve the amendment with additional language suggested by McClure, with Sherr voting against it.

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