BirminghamJuly 2, 2012
Stinky trees have residents seeking city help
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
Each year, as summer fades into fall on Haynes Street in Birmingham, the dread sets in. Residents in the area know it won’t be long before the leaves of the many Ginkgo trees in the area begin to fall, along with the fruit the trees bear — fruit that, according to Norm Kern, smells like rotting meat.
A resident of Haynes, Kern first approached the Birmingham City Commission during its meeting Jan. 9 to complain about the Ginkgo trees and the awful smell the fruit emits each fall. He presented the commission with a petition signed by several homeowners in the area, pleading with the city to take action about the awful smell. He also brought to the meeting a brown paper bag filled with the putrid-smelling fruit. The commissioners accepted the petition from Kern, but asked that he leave the bag elsewhere.
Assistant City Manager Joe Valentine was in attendance at that meeting, and also lives on Haynes. He knows firsthand how bad the smell can be from the fruit that covers his lawn each season.
“The Ginkgo trees were planted when the subdivision was developed,” he said. “The fruit-bearing Ginkgos provide the fruit every fall, and once they mature and fall to the ground, when you crush them they have an odor to them. It causes an inconvenience, and that’s an understatement.”
Valentine and Kern have communicated back and forth since that meeting in an attempt to come up with a solution to the smelly situation, discussing everything from injectable treatments and increased lawn pick-ups to eliminating the trees entirely. While Kern said he and many of his neighbors would prefer to do away with the trees completely, Valentine said that’s not a likely option.
“There is a city ordinance that we have in place to protect trees, so there’s a bit of conflict trying to address the situation,” he said, referring to a city policy that states healthy trees are not to be removed unless they are a nuisance or dangerous to people.
“It’s not a nuisance, as defined by the ordinance, but it is an inconvenience. The staff has been trying to come up with a solution to lessen the odor in the neighborhood from the fruit.”
Lauren Wood, director of public services for the city, has been working closely with Valentine, Kern, the city’s arborist and other individuals to come to an amicable solution to the Ginkgos without violating the tree protection ordinance. On July 16, the DPS facility, 851 S. Eton, will host an open meeting for residents to learn about what options the city is weighing and hear what ideas property owners in the area may have. In mid-June, 77 households were directly notified of the meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m.
Wood added that residents should realize that to remove the 28 female Ginkgo trees, the ones that produce the fruit, would seriously impact the street’s tree canopy, which is an asset many homeowners appreciate in Birmingham.
“I want everyone to be on the same page about what the city has researched and have a kind of Q and A. We don’t want to remove trees for just any reason. There’s a lot of trees in the community that people could consider a nuisance because of flakey bark, roots … and we don’t just remove those trees.”
Some of the ideas Wood said she plans to discuss with residents during the meeting are increased leaf pick-ups and frequent tours from a street sweeper. Kern recommended during his initial appearance before the commission that Washington, D.C., has had similar problems with Ginkgos in the past, and they implemented a chemical injection treatment program to prevent the growth of the fruit. Upon investigation, Wood said, D.C. found that the treatments didn’t work and discontinued the program.
If you ask Kern, though, street sweeping isn’t enough to keep the neighborhood stench-free. He said he’s grateful for how diligent the city has been thus far tending to the problem, but he hopes the meeting in July will show the city just how much a nuisance the trees are to residents on Haynes, Hazel and Bowers — even if it means amending the tree protection ordinance.
“The city policy is that a tree will only be removed if it’s causing a dangerous situation. As stinky as they are, they’re not dangerous. (They talked about) running street sweepers around streets every week during Ginkgo season. Which is something, but of course it doesn’t do anything for yards and sidewalks.”
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