The Bloomfield Hills woodlands ordinance was recently amended to include language that can persuade compliance for residents with dangerous or unsightly dead trees and brush.

The Bloomfield Hills woodlands ordinance was recently amended to include language that can persuade compliance for residents with dangerous or unsightly dead trees and brush.

File photo by Tiffany Esshaki


Bloomfield Hills amends woodlands ordinance to push compliance

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 1, 2019

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The Bloomfield Hills woodlands ordinance is 13 pages long and took a year to carefully craft before approval back in 2012, straddling the line between the rights of property owners to do what they will with their own land and the preservation of Bloomfield Hills’ famed tree canopy.

But what about the city’s rights?

That was an element missing from the ordinance, according to City Manager Dave Hendrickson. He brought a resolution to the Bloomfield Hills City Commission March 12 that would give the city a course of action when a property owner has dead or dangerous trees on their land that they’re reluctant to clean up.

“We do have an International Property Maintenance Code that does talk about brush on properties and dead and dying trees in the right of way,” he explained to the commissioners. “But there’s nothing about dead and dying trees that could be a potential danger of falling on a home or on people.”

Hendrickson said the issue was brought to his attention when Code Enforcement Officer John Rogers was having trouble getting a resident with such a tree to comply with removal, and he realized that the municipal code offers him few options to put the pressure on to get the job done.

“I’ve had a handful of complaints like this. I think in the end … it’s a safety issue; that’s pretty important. Sometimes these trees are on property lines and a neighbor will call and say, ‘Look, it’s obviously dead and leaning toward my property,’” Rogers explained. “Most (property owners) are reasonable and take care of it. Some are standoffish. Cost is usually brought up.”

He added that in some cases, leaving dead or dying trees in place could result in a blight issue.

The commission was presented with an amendment to the existing woodlands ordinance giving code enforcement the ability to insist on tree removal or impose citations. The amendment was pieced together by Rogers and City Attorney Derk Beckerleg, using what they deemed the best pieces of comparable ordinances from surrounding communities to fashion their own.

The new sections ordain that private property owners shall, at their sole expense, remove and dispose of dead, diseased and damaged trees and brush on their property that pose an imminent danger to people or other property. If property owners don’t comply in a reasonable time frame, civil infractions will be issued, and in some cases, the city will remove the hazard, and costs incurred will be secured by a lien on the property.

Commissioner Sarah McClure questioned the extent to which the amendment could be applied, since Bloomfield Hills is largely wooded, with many homeowners residing on property with full-fledged forests.

“We’ve thought about that, commissioner, but that’s where I think (Rogers) was talking about reasonableness,” Hendrickson said. “It’s hard, I think, to craft an ordinance (to say) that if something falls in a wooded area, it won’t be bothered because some places are wooded in the front, and something will fall and leave a stump. Discretion and reasonableness is the name of the game, in my administration.”

Hendrickson suggested that language could be added to the amendment to exempt heavily wooded areas, wetlands or natural setbacks from the guidelines. McClure agreed, and Commissioner Mike Coakley added a suggestion that trees and bushes that block driving sightlines be included — ones that aren’t covered by the right of way ordinance, that is.

The commission agreed, with the exception of Commissioner Stuart Sherr, who came out strongly against the amendment.

“The focus of the new proposed ordinance is (for trees) on private property. We know under the existing ordinance we can deal with things in the right of way. The existing ordinance covers private property with public overlays, like right of ways and public sewers. It’s the private property aspect I’m concerned about,” he said.

Sherr called the amendment “overreaching and intrusive,” and questioned whether it was fully constitutional. He added that some residents might be concerned with the natural impact of being forced to remove trees, noting that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says that dead trees can be necessary habitats for wildlife.

He also shared concerns about the timeline outlined in the ordinance, in which the city can specify a date for compliance, not less than 14 days from the date of notice. Sherr said two weeks is too fast and could pose a hardship on some residents, but other commissioners pointed out that the timeline is a minimum of 14 days, and arrangements for longer deadlines could and would be accommodated.

Beckerleg defended the constitutionality of the ordinance, and Hendrickson jumped in to say that the amendment would be loosely enforced and with great discretion, allowing for leeway in cases of composting and other ways that dead trees can be safely used and not cause a blight issue.

“The city under this administration is known for being reasonable with its citizens,” Beckerleg added. “But there are some circumstances where a citizen doesn’t respond, and we have no course of action.”

McClure also dismissed Sherr’s constitutionality concerns, saying that other municipalities have similar ordinances, including Novi and West Bloomfield.

“I don’t look at this as any different from telling someone to paint their house if their house is peeling,” she said. “I like it from a safety and a property maintenance standpoint.”

The commission voted 4-1, with Sherr dissenting, to approve the amendment, directing the city manager and attorney to add language to the ordinance to allow for exemptions on heavily wooded and wetland properties, and including brush that poses a driver sightline disturbance.

To see the woodlands ordinance in its entirety, visit the city website at BloomfieldHillsMI.net.

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