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It depends on the zoning and site characteristics. Broadly, if it is a private tree (i.e., in your front or back yard and not a City right-of-way tree) at a single- or two-family home, a permit is likely not needed. If it's a private tree at a commercial property, apartment complex, etc., a permit is likely needed. Specifics are in Chapter 48, Article II, Division 2, Section 48-94 of City Code and the City's Tree Manual. You may call the Department of Public Works at 517-337-9459 to be sure.
The permit process allows the City to confirm that any tree removal or major vegetation alteration is consistent with the landscaping plans and site plans that were originally agreed upon. For example, if the Planning Commission and City Council approved trees to be used as site screening at a commercial property, removal of those trees violates the conditions of the site plan. It is unlawful to remove them without a permit from the City, who will confirm a replanting plan is consistent with existing agreements or determine if a review of new plans is needed. The Tree Removal and Land Clearing application is the applicable permit for this scenario and the ordinance and exemptions can be found here.
Additionally, tree work requiring occupancy of the City right-of-way requires a permit. This includes road and street closures, equipment staging in the road or parkway or any other use or occupancy of the public right-of-way. Permit applications for both Utility and Non-utility right-of-way usage can be found here.
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All work on public trees must be done or approved by the City. To prune, plant, remove, treat, root-grind, etc. a tree on public property (such as the right-of-way and parkway), the property owner must obtain a permit (See Section 7 of the City Tree Manual and the permit application here).
Some trees are considered shared ownership trees (typically located on the edge of the public right-of-way). The City maintains these trees and all the rules and regulations pertaining to public trees still apply. However, the City may be more inclined to allow for removal of shared ownership trees in certain situations.
With approval, yes. The City of East Lansing encourages homeowners to plant approved street trees in the parkway. A site visit will be conducted to ensure that the appropriate variety of tree is chosen, adequate space is available and no utility or infrastructure conflicts are present. Residents will be contacted, and if approved, a planting permit will be issued. There are two approaches for this work:
DIY Planting: Property owners interested in planting a tree in the city parkway themselves must first submit a Street Tree Work application. The City will issue a permit following approval of the site and species selection, confirmation that the tree will not interfere with utilities and verification that it follows Right Tree, Right Place principles. Homeowners are not required to submit a separate Non-Utility Right-Of-Way Occupancy permit application if they are performing the work themselves with typical garden equipment (i.e. a shovel), but must have an approved Street Tree Work permit in hand prior to performing any planting, otherwise they are at risk of penalties and fines. If a property owner will be using machinery, augers or equipment other than shovels, a Right-of-Way Occupancy permit will also be required, though fees will be waived. Right-of-Way permits can be found here.
Contractor Planting: Property owners who wish to plant a tree in the public right-of-way using a landscape company, contractor, or other entity, must also apply for and receive a Street Tree Work permit as well as a Non-Utility Right-of-Way Occupancy permit. Fees for the Right-of-Way permit will be waived for approved street tree plantings, but it must be on file as the City will need the firm's proof of insurance on record. These permits also help our emergency responders know where roads may be closed or narrowed due to the presence of machinery.
In both cases, the property owner agrees to water the trees during their establishment period at a rate of 1 inch per week per caliper of the tree for the growing season. Additional details are located in the City Tree Manual. It is also important to understand that any tree planted in the public right-of-way becomes the property of the City, which has full authority on maintenance and removal decisions.
When funding is available, DPW replaces/plants trees in the spring and/or fall according to the "Right Tree, Right Place" concept. Therefore, all aspects of the tree and the planting location are considered from the ultimate height of the tree, root zone, overhead utilities, sidewalks, etc. This concept minimizes damage to sidewalks and curbs, reduces conflicts with utilities and provides the best opportunity for a tree to grow to maturity. Based on this concept, the City has developed a list of approved street trees which are suitable for planting along City streets.
While the City focuses on native tree species that provide food for wildlife, biodiversity, habitat and more (around 80% of recent plantings were native), the City also recognizes that our urban/suburban environment presents non-native conditions compared to a native, undeveloped landscape. Street trees must be resistant to unnatural stressors like air pollution, heat island effects, pests, road-salt, compacted soils and small spaces for roots. In some cases, non-native species are better suited for these conditions, more resistant to stressors/drought and are more likely to reach maturity and survive long term. To ensure a healthy, mature urban forest, the "Right Tree, Right Place" principles must be considered and the City's approved species list (which includes non-native species) reflects that need. However, it is important to note that "non-native" and "exotic" species differ from "invasive" species. Invasive trees can cause damage to the environment, other trees, insects, humans and wildlife. Non-native trees are simply those that did not historically exist in the area, but do not pose a threat to the native environment.
If you would like the parkway near your home to be considered for a potential tree planting, fill out this form. Note: this does not guarantee a tree will be planted this year or in any year. Several factors are considered when selecting areas to be planted, but this lets the City know you are willing to help care for a future tree near your home should your area be targeted for plantings. If the space is viable, funding is available and your turn is up, you will receive a letter ahead of the planting indicating that it is forthcoming and plantings only occur in spring and fall.
You may notice that the Restricted Species list includes maple trees. This is at the recommendation of experts following the completion of an Urban Tree Canopy Assessment that found roughly 44% of City trees are maples - the result of overplanting over the decades. This lack of biodiversity and over-population of one species leave the urban canopy vulnerable to catastrophic tree loss and the City is limiting maple plantings to diversify the genus, family and species make-up to ensure a resilient urban forest.
To illustrate this vulnerability, think of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle that targets Ash trees which was first discovered in Michigan in 2002. Since then it has caused the death of 40 million Ash trees in the State, including over 10% of all City trees. Should a future pest, disease or blight impact maple trees, the City would be at risk of a catastrophic loss of nearly half of its canopy.
Many residents report that they desire maples because of their brilliant fall colors (particularly the red maple). The City often recommends they consider alternatives that have similar characteristics, such as the Sweetgum (which can be easily mistaken for a maple) or the Frontier Elm, a Dutch Elm Disease resistant varietal that is one of the few with red-purple fall colors. There are other species with these characteristics that can help the community make the shift to a more sustainable and resilient forest canopy.
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