May 27, 2018
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Proposed Bangor tree policy change leaves disputes between neighbors to them

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Proposed revisions to Bangor’s tree ordinance will leave homeowners on their own when it comes to resolving disputes about leaves and branches intruding on neighboring properties.

The Bangor City Council’s infrastructure committee voted 3-0 Tuesday to recommend the adoption of tree ordinance revisions proposed by Bangor Public Works Director Dana Wardwell that would essentially eliminate any city governance over trees on private property.

“I know that might not be the answer everyone’s looking for, but that’s the reality,” said Wardwell.

If the Bangor City Council votes to approve the revised tree ordinance pertaining to dangerous trees and branches, the responsibility for maintaining trees will officially rest with most property owners, provided there are no public safety issues.

“People were coming to city officials, complaining about neighbors littering their yard with leaves from their trees and we had no authority over that,” said Councilor Nelson Durgin, one of three to vote for recommending approval of the revisions. “We really haven’t had anything to go by because our policy was silent on that whole issue, so this will help establish that.”

Wardwell prefaced his report to the committee by noting that most disputes between neighbors involve private trees on private property and do not have any safety issues. Most are simply over leaves falling from a tree onto another neighbor’s property and that neighbor wanting the tree removed.

But what about disputes over limbs or roots growing out over the property lines and onto a neighbor’s lawn, or leaves falling or blowing over the lines?

“In instances like limbs growing over a property line, that’s kind of why we wanted to reword the ordinance language, to get us out of those kinds of situations,” Wardwell said. “It’s a civil matter and residents really need to go consult an attorney before they go doing something like that.

“It’s a really touchy situation and that’s why we wanted to get ourselves out of that situation of being between two residents on issues like that.”

The revisions would remove references in the ordinance to private property as it pertains to trees and any potential hazards or impediments to people and their property in the use and occupancy of public ways and public property. The ordinance currently mentions both public and private ways and property.

“If it’s not endangering public property or a threat to anyone else, we have no jurisdiction over it,” Durgin explained. “The tree regulations make a lot of sense. This is going to be a private property issue between property owners and the city will have no jurisdiction over that area.”

The exceptions would be trees, either planted by city staff members or private citizens, in public ways, such as right-of-ways and esplanades between the streets and sidewalks. Those would be the city’s responsibility to maintain and cut down if they were diseased or became a safety issue.

The City Council may vote on the proposed revisions on Monday, June 23.

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