Walk down almost any street in the Borough of West Chester and you are greeted by a lacy extension of leaves and branches stretching over roads and sidewalks, providing shade and improving our health and property values. The trees are one of many reasons West Chester is a great place to live.
To keep this the case, West Chester just enacted, by unanimous decision, a completely revamped “Trees” section of the Borough Code. The new regulations were written with the stated goal of prioritizing “a full and healthy urban tree canopy.”
“It’s the best tree ordinance in the state of Pennsylvania right now,” said Borough Arborist Mike Dunn, “and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
To get there the Borough is going to need property-owners help, but this time the its proposing kicking in a little too. While there is a lot of new detail in the new version, there are two areas of particular interest for residents: street trees and heritage trees.
What is it: A tree located adjacent to, along or upon the side of any street and within the public right-of-way. In other words, the trees that reside between the street and the sidewalk.
Current code: Under the current code you are responsible for maintaining, and if necessary removing, any street tree on your property, but you can not do this without first getting a permit. To get a permit you need to get permission from the Borough Arborist and pay a fee. Now if this tree is deemed a nuisance and must be removed, this too is your responsibility, and your cost. Plus, once given notice you have 30 days to “thoroughly and completely remove” the tree before the fines begin.
New code: Under the new code, the Borough would assume responsibility for the planting, transplanting, pruning and treating of street trees. The owner of the property is still responsible for the costs of removing the tree but the Borough is now offering to split those costs 50/50. Also under the new code, any street tree that is removed must be replaced with another tree.
Also, note there is greater definition around maintaining proper tree wells when replacing sidewalks. So if you get a notification you need to fix your sidewalk, you’ll first want to check and make sure your improvements meet the new tree regulations.
What is it: A tree with a diameter at breast height (dbh) of 24 inches or greater, or, your really big, old trees.
Current code: There is no classification for heritage trees in the current code.
New code: Under the new code, residents would now have to contact the Borough prior to “cutting, pruning, trimming, felling, or removing” a heritage tree on their property. Realizing this is kind of a big ask, the Borough is offering owners a credit against their stream protection fee for their help in protecting and preserving our heritage trees. The logistics around how the credit will be applied are still being worked out the credit will be applied annually so this is a big win for anyone with a heritage tree on their property.
However, just because you have a really big tree on your property doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow the new regulations. While all heritage trees have a dbh of 24 inches or greater, not all trees with a dbh of 24 inches or greater are heritage trees. The code provides a list of exempted trees.
In addition to the introduction of heritage trees, there is a new section on maintaining tree wells when replacing or upgrading sidewalks. There are new standards for contractors doing work in the Borough. (“We are increasing the the standard of care for the people taking care of the tree,” says Dunn.) There is a subsection dedicated to development and also, a provision requiring the owner to offer financial security to the Borough prior to beginning any permitted work. In all its a pretty significant strengthening over the current language.
“Our canopy has been diminishing for years now,” says Dunn, “without a process for replacing it.” This is all part of the process.
Plus, this park will help you appreciate the trees for yourself.
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