PENNINGTON: Borough trees causing damage to sidewalks

By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
PENNINGTON BOROUGH — Two trees whose roots have upended a sidewalk in front of a home on Hale Street in the borough was the topic of a lively discussion at the most-recent Borough Council meeting.
Homeowner Regina Phillips told council members on Sept. 8 that she received a letter from Pennington Borough stating she is required to repair the damaged sidewalk by mid-December. She also said she came to speak in before the council to find out what her responsibilities are regarding the two trees that caused the damage.
One tree, she said, is “leaning way towards the road.”
It was about 20 years ago at the time the trees were planted by the borough, Ms Phillips said, when she was first concerned that the trees would eventually upend the brick sidewalk, and now they have.
Gabriel Rosko, chair of the borough’s Shade Tree Commission, also attended the Sept. 8 meeting to discuss a growing tree problem around the municipality. Mr. Rosko is a certified tree expert and a certified arborist.
There are about 80 larger-size trees around town planted within the borough’s right-of-ways that need attention, he said. Some of the trees also have roots that are unending sidewalks, while others have dead limbs, while still others are entirely dead.
“Some of these trees were improperly planted,” Mr. Rosko told the council, noting that the time is coming very soon when the 80-plus trees identified will have to be dealt with.
For Ms. Phillips’ trees, he said they do not have to be removed, but suggested that “root pruning is adequate” to remove only those parts of the root systems interfering with the currently damaged sidewalk.
“I don’t like to take trees down,” Ms. Phillips said.
Borough Attorney Walter Bliss read from an ordinance he said restricts the removal of trees planted within right-of-ways. Only trees that pose a danger to public safety can be removed.
The Borough Council makes the decision to take a tree down based on the recommendation of the Shade Tree Committee, Mr. Bliss said, and the homeowner is responsible for the cost of removal.
Mr. Rosko insisted that Ms. Phillips’ trees “are not public safety issues.” The uplifted sidewalk is the issue, he said. Either tree, at this point, he said, does not need to come down.
Councilman Charles Marciante said he does not believe that a homeowner has to pay to remove a a tree when it was the borough that initially paid to plant the tree in the first place.
“We ought to come up with money to fix it once and for all,” Mr. Marciante said.
Councilman Joseph Lawver said the issue is “past practice,” meaning homeowners have previously paid for tree removal.
“I don’t want to set a precedent in the borough,” Mr. Rosko said about having the borough pay for tree removal.
Councilwoman Catherine “Kit” Chandler said, “I don’t like this precedent of taking down fine [healthy] trees.”
Mayor Anthony Persichilli proposed giving Ms. Phillips an extension for the sidewalk repair.
Councilman Lawver suggested a six-month extension.
“We will send you a letter that you have a six-month extension,” the mayor told Ms. Phillips. 