Removal of city trees from Aurora resident's yard would cost him thousands

AURORA, Colo. - Dennis Davis wants to get rid of two trees on the edge of his Aurora lawn. To do so, he would have to pay the city nearly $7,500.

--See this story on 7NEWS at 10 p.m. Friday.--

It turns out the trees, which are on both corners of Davis' front yard and surrounded by his own rock wall landscaping, are really city-owned trees on city right-of-way.

"Roots (are) coming from under the tree and going up under our driveway," said Davis.

He showed 7NEWS the bumps in his driveway that he blames on roots growing under and into the concrete.

"Even if the tree wasn't the problem in the first place, and I say it is, but they don't want to admit that, it's continuing the problem, it's making it worse," said Davis.

"City policy is that we do not remove healthy city trees, and these trees are healthy trees," said Aurora City Forester John Wesolowski.

Since Wesolowski became forester, he changed policy to allow homeowners to remove healthy city-owned trees if they pay a mitigation fee.

"The policy before (was), we don't remove healthy trees and that's it," said Wesolowski.

"When can a city tree come down at no cost to the homeowner?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"A city tree can come down at no cost to the homeowner when it is deemed unsafe or the tree is dead," said Wesolowski.

"Is this tree unsafe or dead?" asked Zelinger.

"No. It is not," said Wesolowski.

"Either tree?" asked Zelinger.

"No, they are not," said Wesolowski.


-- Factors in tree value --


To determine the value of a tree, the city uses a formula from the International Society of Arboriculture.

"Based on species, location and condition," said Wesolowski.

Davis' trees are silver maples. The city valued the one nearest his driveway at $5,605.73. His other tree is valued at $1,891.80.

"We have to buy the tree from the city, the two trees, for over $7,000, and then I have to pay someone to come and take the trees down," said Davis. "(It's) their way of pushing back and saying, 'Let's make it impossible for him to take care of our trees in his yard.'"

Davis said he had to replace the sewage line from his home to the street because of roots in the pipes five years ago.

7NEWS found his next door neighbor in the process of doing the same thing.

"The tree filled my sewer main with roots and I had to have a company come out and dig it up," said Bennett Moore.

"With the sewers, it's more of a leaky pipe issue and the trees trying to take advantage of that water source," said Wesolowski.

The forester said trees seek out water and oxygen. He said without a crack first existing in the pipe, the roots would not impact the area.

Moore said his biggest concern was the tree impacting a gas main near his home.

7NEWS checked with the city and found that particular tree is valued at $5,700.

"They said they'd remove the tree if it became a health hazard for the tree," said Moore.


-- 40,000 trees planted on city right-of-way --


Aurora has 40,000 trees planted on city right-of-way, including the front yards of homes.

"All of our trees are inventoried, so we know if it's a city tree or not. We know how big it is. We know what type of species it is," said Wesolowski.

The city has a pruning schedule, but 7NEWS found that it takes 13 years to get back to the same tree.

"Feasibly yes, if we prune the tree tomorrow, it could take 13 years to get back to that tree," said Wesolowski.

He said homeowners can contact the city about the need to prune trees earlier, if needed. He also said if a homeowner was making an improvement to their home, they could call and have the city check on the tree roots at that time.

"We'll go through and we will prune the roots when they're replacing the driveway, so the roots won't cause a problem anymore," said Wesolowski.

According to Wesolowski, it would be near impossible to determine which tree would be causing problems on any given property.

"Tree roots can go twice as wide as the height of the tree," said Wesolowski.


-- If city trees were unknowingly cut down --


7NEWS also found a loophole that Davis and Moore could have used to their advantage.

"If a tree disappeared, would the homeowner be presented with this mitigation fee?" asked Zelinger.

"No. No they would not," said Wesolowski. "I have to see that the tree is being removed."

"There have been people in the neighborhood that have taken their trees out; the city didn't know it and nothing happened. I'm trying to do this the right way," said Davis. "The tree is more important to the city of Aurora than their citizens."

7NEWS asked if anyone had taken up the city's offer to pay a mitigation fee.

Four requests have been made to remove trees since the program started within the last five years. Only one resident has paid the mitigation fee, to remove two trees for $3,500.

The city puts the money into a community trees fund to pay for new trees to be planted.

According to the city, about 150 to 200 trees are planted on city right-of-way each year. Residents can request trees be planted or can opt-out of trees being planted.

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