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Council discusses tree trimming ordinance

Mayor Dean Andrews (left), city clerk Trudy O'Donnell (middle), and council member Jerry Joerger look at their notes during a city council meeting. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra
Mayor Dean Andrews (left), City Clerk Trudy O’Donnell and council member Jerry Joerger look at their notes during a city council meeting. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra
By Kelly Terpstra,

Low-lying branches and overgrown trees can cause a problem for people trying to navigate around side streets or sidewalks in Charles City.

The problem can exist for people on foot or driving a vehicle, and the issue was brought up for discussion at Monday’s City Council planning session.

Street Department Superintendent Dirk Uetz said when he started working for the city the trees would get trimmed in the winter during slow periods. But his staff has four fewer employees now and it’s hard to find the time to keep the trees from over-growing and becoming a potential nuisance, he said.

A city ordinance requires property owners to trim trees so that branches will be at least 15 feet above the surface of the street and 8 feet above the sidewalk.

A question Monday night was whether that ordinance should be enforced with fines.

Council member DeLaine Freeseman and other members of the council said they have had first-hand experiences with some of the low-hanging branches around town.

“I haven’t run for almost two years now, but I know when I was running it’s the reason I ran in the street because of most the sidewalks you can’t get around without ducking and not beating your head against a tree limb in some place,” said Freeseman.

The council’s Michael Hammond said he is a foot shorter than Freeseman and has had to try to avoid trees that have gotten in his path.

“I get branches hitting my head. So you know it’s a problem if they’re hitting me,” said Hammond.

Mayor Dean Andrews proposed something similar to what’s done if property owners don’t maintain their lawn to a certain length or standard.

“Say if your tree needs to be trimmed, if it’s not trimmed in so much time we’re going to do it for you and charge you,” said Andrews.

Freeseman suggested sending out a notification to homeowners concerning trees that needed to be trimmed, but the council also discussed how much time it would take to inspect homes to see that trees met the ordinance requirements and how much time it would take to follow-up whether homeowners had complied before sending out city crews to do the trimming.

“That’s the responsibility of the homeowners to keep the trees trimmed up,” Freeseman said.

Uetz said a another complicated matters happens after an ice storm. Branches will hang even lower after ice accumulates.

“Either you get it done yourself and pay for it or when they come through you’ll be accessed for whatever that charge is,” said Freeseman.

No official action is taken during a council planning session.

— The Southwest Development Park has been talked about previously regarding work that could be done to increase stormwater detention storage and upgrading the culverts crossing under 11th Street in that area.

The Charles City Area Development Corp. hired the engineering firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson to study the existing conditions in the park. There was plenty of discussion whether to retain the firm’s services and move ahead with a project with an estimated cost of $394,800.

The recommendations have been brought in front of the Southwest TIF Board. The board has agreed to provide $100,000 of TIF funding to pay toward the drainage upgrades. The city also has $80,000 budgeted in the 2019 Fiscal Year for the project. The remaining project funds could come from the city’s stormwater fund.

— There has been a request by the Charles City Railway Co. to rezone property located south of 11th Avenue between North Grand Avenue and D Street. That property is currently zoned as an M-2 or general manufacturing district. The request is to have it changed to a B-3 or business district.

Robert Moen, president of the newly formed and non-profit The American Passenger Train History Museum, would like to create a passenger train museum on the property. A museum is neither a permitted use or a special use in the M-2 zoning district. The company also owns additional property from D Street to the extension of G Street that contains railroad tracks and passenger train cars.

The museum would have a building for displays, show videos and use the existing passenger cars as part of the museum. Coaches, lounges, dining cars and sleeping cars would all be restored as part of the proposed endeavor.

— City Administrator Steve Diers updated the council on the current status of the proposed city fiber-to-the-home broadband project. A decision will need to be made whether to proceed with the next phase of the proposed internet, video and telephone project under a proposal by Lookout Point Communications and New Com Technologies. That phase has a projected total cost of $381,070.

A Charles City Broadband Commission meeting will be held at 6 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the council chambers at City Hall.

Other items discussed at the planning session were:

— The Hairstyling Center at 100 N. Main Street requested $5,460 from the Community Revitalization Facade Improvement Grant Fund. That total is the current amount of money left in the fund. Part of the grant would go toward fixing four windows that are currently blocked off.

— The Immaculate Conception Church put in a request for city-owned property near the building to be graded by Kamm Excavating to allow storm water to drain toward Brantingham Street. The areas south and east of the IC offices do not allow surface water to drain away from the building.