Tree lawns and right of ways

By Roger DeGood - Guest Columnist

The Village of Swanton completed its plantings for 2018 and it was a very successful season.

There were 27 trees placed in a development which had no street trees. Those were maples and ironwood species which have a columnar growth habit meaning they will grow more upright and compact rather than spread out and will present somewhat less shadow.

As they grow, they will be limbed up so they do not infringe upon views either to or from each residence. When selecting the final locations, site lines are always considered. After all, no one wants a tree directly in line with their front door or that might keep them from seeing when coming out of their drive.

Notification door hangers were placed at each affected property prior to the start of planting. Those notifications resulted is several resident phone calls asking for more information. All those requests were handled amiably with some adjustments made on the fly by the contractors doing the installation.

Next year the Tree Commission will make an effort to get those letters and door hangers out earlier, no later than Oct. 1, so it gives everyone a heads up as to what will be happening. About 25 percent of those inquiries were from residents who didn’t want to be left out from this or future plantings. For future reference, we are not planted out in that subdivision just yet and have many sites available.

With the cooperation of the Rotary Club of Swanton, and at the suggestion from park users, we were able to select and coordinate the installation of an additional 12 trees in Pilliod Park to enhance shading of the path and shield a parking area.

I thought this might be a good time to refresh everyone on right of ways and tree lawns since this is where your new visitors were placed.

Typically, the tree lawn is considered the space between the sidewalk and the curb on most village streets. This coincides somewhat with what is called the right of way (ROW). ROW is sort of a no man’s land between the inside edge of the sidewalk and the curb. It is in this ROW where most, if not all, of the public utilities are located. Overhead power and communication lines, underground sewers, potable water mains and natural gas lines. As per the State of Ohio Revised Code, the trees planted there are also part of the public utilities.

You see, even though the property owner owns the property all the way to the curb and is required to mow and maintain the ROW, the Village of Swanton has control of its use including access to the utilities and trees planted there. Since the Village of Swanton has charge of the care and feeding of the trees there, anything planted there comes under their control.

Therefore, residents are requested not to plant anything in the ROW. The Tree Commission understands that this was done in the past and with the good intent of beautifying the resident’s property but it is good to realize that anything planted there actuality becomes the property of the Village. If, for instance there is a utility malfunction and an underground repair is necessary, the Village is not responsible to replace that lovely crab apple or the irrigation system that keeps the grass green.

This doesn’t mean that the Village will be coming around and tearing out all owner planted trees and bushes. It only means that if they die, become diseased, or interfere with other public utilities, the Village will remove and may not replace them.

The simplest piece of advice might be, a property owner shouldn’t put anything in a right of way that he cannot afford to lose.

There are many streets in the Village that do not have curbs and sidewalks. There is still an ROW on the frontages that usually is about 10-feet back from the pavement edge. If you plan on doing anything in any ROW, it is best to contact the Village before proceeding.

For our readers that are outside the Village limits, your property might be one that is unplatted where the owner’s description extended to the centerline of the roadway. In this case the ROW may be more in the form of an easement. Plantings and use in this type of situation are governed by what is called the “authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)” which might be the township government. It’s always best to contact the AHJ, whether it’s village or township before proceeding.

In the case of ROWs and easements it’s always better (and cheaper) to seek out guidance and permission first rather than pleading for forgiveness after the fact.

Should you have questions and need assistance, call the Village Offices at 419-826-9515 on how to contact a Tree Commissioner near you and visit the Brochure Bank at Village Hall for more information.

By Roger DeGood

Guest Columnist