Leawood could make it harder to cut down trees near street in public right-of-ways

The Leawood City Council on Tuesday discussed modifications to its street tree ordinance, which would specifically address the protection of street trees from being removed during residential construction projects. Photo credit Nikki Lansford.

The Leawood City Council on Tuesday discussed modifications to its street tree ordinance, which would aim to protect trees planted in public right-of-ways from being damaged or removed during residential construction without prior city approval.

What are ‘street trees’? The ordinance does not apply to trees on private property but to so-called “street trees,” or trees planted in public right-of-ways between the curb and a public sidewalk.

  • As the city’s current code says, street trees — along with other trees — “represent a green part of the city’s infrastructure,” that improve “aesthetics leading to improved property values, reduced energy consumption, and stormwater and erosion control” and rules should be put in place to protect them for unnecessary removal.

Background: According to Leawood Parks superintendent Brian Anderson, the issue of trees being removed during construction was first brought to the city’s attention in 2017.

  • To mitigate the problem, city staff handed out booklets informing contractors on how they can save trees at their construction sites, but the problem still persisted.

Proposed changes: If approved by the council, the amended ordinance would require several safety measures be put in place to protect certain trees during construction, such as putting temporary fencing around them.

  • The suggested changes would also make it so trees could not be removed or added without an approved street tree permit.
  • Also, with the proposed amendments, street trees would be required to be removed when they die or are diseased.
  • Those who do not follow the ordinance could be subjected to a fine between $500 and $2,500 and may be ordered to correct the violation or make restitution.

Council discussion: While the council expressed overall satisfaction with the proposed amendments during their work session, some showed interest in changing how the fines and restitution portion of the ordinance would work.

  • “We should take out the maybe,” Councilmember Debra Filla said. “I’d like to have the business be fined, plus restitution for the replacement of the calibers that have been taken down illegally with no discretion.”
  • She argued that no matter the circumstance, the offender had taken something from the city and the surrounding neighbors, therefore they should always be required to pay to fix the problem.

What’s next: Now that the council has reviewed a draft of the suggested street tree ordinance amendments, city staff will use their comments to construct a finalized version of it.

  • Ultimately, the new ordinance must gain official approval from the council, which should happen in the next following months at one of their regular Monday night meetings.