Council hears concern over tree topping

FRONT ROYAL – The town won’t penalize a homeowner for damaging trees on a public right-of-way late last year.

Instead, the town and its arborist plan to keep an eye on the trees on West 12th Street and Virginia Avenue that Harry Deavers trimmed as he has done for almost 30 years.

David B. Means, consulting arborist and chairman of the Urban Forest Advisory Commission, told Town Council on Tuesday that Deavers “topped” the trees. The commission sought to declare Deavers’ act a violation of the town code. Topping can damage trees and even shorten their life span, Means has explained.

Front Royal’s horticulturist, Anne Rose, contacted Means on Dec. 8 after Deavers asked the town to pick up branches collected on the right-of-way along Virginia Avenue at the edge of the homeowner’s property. Means evaluated the topping of the trees on the public right-of-way and determined that the cutting in fact left the maples severely damaged.

Topping occurs frequently in town but usually they can’t find the culprit, Means said.

Topping damages not only the trees on public property but in private yards, Means said. Many tree-trimming companies also use similar topping methods, Means said. But the method jeopardizes a tree’s health, he added. Also, the new branches that grow near the area that was topped are usually weak and susceptible to heavy ice, Means noted. The town also needs to worry about this since the trees are on public property.

Means provided council members with a brochure illustrating and explaining the dangers of topping trees as a way of pruning the vegetation. Some council members said the town could provide residents with the information either on the website or in utility bills.

The town sent Deavers a letter last week advising him of the alleged code violation and that the commission would seek some monetary compensation to remove and replace the trees on public property.

But after hearing from Means about the situation, Councilman Eugene Tewalt criticized officials for alerting Deavers, a man he’s known for years, by a letter from Town Attorney Doug Napier he received late last week rather than contact him in person informally to advise him of the problem. The town needs to improve how it communicates with residents and responds to situations, Tewalt said.

Deavers, who also attended the meeting, planted four Norway maples near his property on the adjacent, public right of way in the late 1980s. Deavers also trimmed the trees since then. Tewalt suggested that the town let the trees grow where they are and, when they need trimming, do so in the proper way next time. If the trees are in poor health, then the town can remove them, Tewalt said.

“He planted the trees and he did what he thought best for himself as well as the trees,” Tewalt said. “Maybe he wanted to give them a haircut and wanted to have more shaved off than should’ve been.”

Tewalt added that the town should tell residents not to plant trees on public rights-of-way. Tewalt blamed the town for not following its own regulations in some cases.

Means said he doesn’t anticipate the topped trees will die.

“What I would like to see, Gene, is he at least become aware of why and I do agree with you on the upfront communication process,” Means said.

Mayor Timothy Darr suggested residents who want to trim their trees first contact the town’s horticulture department.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com