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TEST - Debate continues to grow over right-of-way plantings

Plenty of viewpoints, but no resolution on controversial issue

Feb. 3, 2010

Shorewood — Forced into paying attention to a practice that has gone on for at least 80 years, the Village Board continues to struggle to find a solution to planting in public rights of ways.

Last spring, a Shorewood couple installed a raised planting box in the public right of way between sidewalk and street in the 4500 block of Newhall Avenue.

Someone complained and within 10 hours the couple, Naomi and David Cobb, were issued a citation. The Cobbs and others with plants in the rights of way then asked the village for a change in the ordinance to permit the plantings.

The Cobbs grew a vegetable crop in the bed during the summer. While the crops have long since been harvested, the issue sprouted by the box could linger into the beginning of another planting season.

No one wants that, and a village subcommittee met regularly to devise solutions. Right now, there is only one solution: Follow the current ordinance that does not allow any resident to plant in the rights of ways. However, the ordinance has been used on a complaint basis only and there are numerous other examples of plantings in the rights of way throughout the village.

New rules studied

The Village Board reviewed a second solution at its meeting on Monday. That solution, preferred by the committee studying the issue, would not allow planting boxes or structures in the rights of way, but would permit plantings 24 inches or shorter in at-grade beds.

That proposal contains setback requirements, requires residents to call Diggers Hotline and calls for a host of other restrictions, including filing an annual plan for right-of-way plantings with the village.

A complementary set of guidelines would clarify the use of pavers in the rights of way. They would continue to be permitted with a special privilege permit. Planting vegetation would require only filing a plan with the village, not the permit.

Village Attorney Ray Pollen said the community could face liability issues because of the new proposal, which is why residents who want to plant in the right of way would be required to show proof of liability insurance covering the village should anyone slip, trip or fall over private plantings in the right of way.

Residents weigh in

The proposal brought out both supporters and opposition at Monday's meeting.

Naomi Cobb, who said the issue is about sustainability, supported planting in the right of way, but wants to continue using a planting box. She did not support pavers.

"Allowing pavers is a mistake," she said. "That allows water to run off (onto the sidewalk or street).

Jerry Davis said he likes to garden, but not between the curb and sidewalk.

"There is a safety issue," he said, noting that he lives near St. Robert Church and school." I see people getting in and out of their cars. It is easy to trip on a plant. I don't support anything in an area where seniors and kids get dropped off."

John Reinhart noted that parking regulations prevent him from parking in front of his house on Wildwood Avenue, so he has to park across the street.

"If my neighbor chooses to plant in his right of way, I have to climb over whatever he puts there," he said.

Kay Wosewick, who spent the summer killing her lawn in order to replant with native plants, supported right-of-way planting and pavers. Wosewick said pavers should also be permitted along the edge of driveways, not just in the rights of ways.

Linda Drake pointed out that some of the plantings in the rights of way are very old. She lives in a house on Newhall Street built about 80 years ago.

"There was a builder who put a rose bush in the parkway after he completed every house," she said. The rose bush, about 4 feet tall, is fragrant and doesn't block the right of way, she said. "I think it would be a loss to have to cut down something like that."

Enforcement lacking

Michael Aita said the problem has arisen because the village has not enforced its existing ordinance.

"Around the corner from me, there is an eyesore in the right of way," he said. "I have complained about it, but nothing gets done."

He also raised a new issue.

In the end, with almost as many views as speakers, Village President Guy Johnson asked for two trustees to work with staff on a recommendation that would then go to the Buildings and Streets Committee for review and ultimately come back to the board for a vote.

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