July 30, 2014

New Shade Tree Ordinance Approved by Mayor and Council

Since consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, members of Princeton Council have been working to consolidate the ordinances of both.

The painstaking task is yielding sets of new standards and regulations. One such example was approved  by Mayor Lempert and members of Council when they voted to repeal two old ordinances and replace them with a new ordinance that “establishes the duties and responsibilities” of the Princeton Shade Tree Commission and “sets forth the standards and regulations affecting trees and shrubs on public and private property and requires persons engaging in tree pruning, removal, and/or repairer for hire to register with the municipality.”

The former Township and Borough had different requirements for homeowners wishing to remove trees. The new ordinance brings such differences in the tree removal permitting processes into line.

“The Township process was geared toward avoiding clear-cutting and protecting trees near the right-of-way and the  Borough’s was geared toward protecting larger trees,” explained Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller Monday. “The Borough required that property owners notify their contiguous neighbors when they are planning to remove a tree, and the Township did not. The Shade Tree Commission struggled with how to reconcile the differences and worked with our arborist, Greg O’Neill, to come up with a simplified requirement where any tree larger than 8 inches in diameter requires a permit, and residents are required to notify their neighbors by supplying them with a copy of their tree-removal application; they do not have to supply certified mail receipts or signatures but they must sign a form attesting to their delivery.”

Council’s unanimous vote followed a thorough review by the Princeton Shade Tree Commission and a public hearing on the matter. Members of Council found little that was controversial in their deliberation of the subject, except for the question of whether tree experts who register with the municipality should be required to show proof of insurance.

Registration of tree experts was required by the former Township but not by the former Princeton Borough. The new ordinance maintains the requirement for tree experts to register.

Local tree expert Bob Wells attended the pubic meeting and urged Council to also require proof of liability and workers compensation insurance. According to Ms. Crumiller, the Council struggled with the question before deciding that such proof of insurance would not be required. “But,” said Ms. Crumiller by email Monday, “we may include a question about it on our registration form, and we added a provision that the registration forms will be made public and posted on our website.”

The new ordinance defines Princeton’s stewardship of trees and shrubs that are “a natural resource that provide aesthetic, economic, ecological, environmental and health benefits” to the town.

Municipal trees not only beautify, they provide shade and shelter from the weather, and “stabilize soil, reduce stormwater runoff and sedimentation, increase groundwater recharge, and reduce the potential for flooding and for water and wind erosion.”

The Commission’s job, among other duties, is to preserve the maximum number of trees and shrubs; safeguard specimen and significant trees; and replace removed or destroyed trees.

“I haven’t heard from any residents who object to the restrictions on cutting down trees – in fact I’ve heard the opposite,” reported Ms. Crumiller, who serves as the liaison between the Commission and the Council.  “ I think people appreciate that we’re a ‘tree city’ and that Princeton would not be Princeton without its substantial tree canopy, which besides adding great beauty, provides cooling shade, wildlife habitat and cleans the air.”