The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 19, 2013

Businesses, officials seek agreement

By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — City officials and local businessmen are working together to reach an agreement to rectify the improper removal of four trees on city property in Clinton’s west end.

Local businessman and Realtor Steve Howes has said that if and when they are issued, he will pay any penalties in connection with the removal of four Purple Ash trees that were located on city property at the corner of 19th Street and Lincoln Way in Clinton.

“I was led to believe that behind the parkway was private property, so I forwarded that information on,” Howes said.

Although a penalty has not been issued, Howes could face up to $400 in fines plus re-planting fees, according to Clinton’s tree ordinance.

Clinton City Attorney Jeff Farwell said Wednesday that he has been working with all of the parties involved to reach an agreement on what penalties will be distributed and who will receive those punishments, but has not reached that agreement.

“We’re trying to work on a deal with all the people involved with the situation,” Farwell said. “No fines have been issued yet.”

According to the city ordinance, removal of parkway trees without a proper permit is punishable by a $100 fine for each violation, plus applicable court costs. Each violation that is committed will be handled as an individual violation and will be treated accordingly.

Both Howes and his client, Clinton Auto Group owner Craig Miller, say they were informed the trees were located on private property and would not require a permit to be cut down.

However, City Engineer Jason Craft said the trees were in fact on city property based on a design plan from the Iowa Department of Transportation for the Lincoln Way Streetscape project from 2001. Craft also confirmed there were no proper tree permits obtained prior to the removal of the four Purple Ash trees.

“Tree permits are usually handled through the Public Works office and tree contractors know there needs to be a permit,” Craft said. “(But) I don’t think that process was followed.”

Miller, a self-proclaimed “tree guy,” has been disturbed by the outcome of his property sale, which required the removal of the trees in accordance with the offer made by Rotti Motors, and has offered to donate money to the Clinton Tree Commission to rectify the damage and replace the trees.

“I didn’t want to cut the trees down; I dragged my feet clear to the closing on that. I asked Steve ‘are you sure that this is legal?’” Miller said. “He went and asked and said if they’re on your side of the sidewalk you can cut them. I felt I had done my due diligence through our Realtor.”

Miller’s attempts to reconcile the damage done to the property has been well received by the tree commission, and Commission Chairman Randy Pennock is glad to see him stepping up to fix the issue.

“Clinton Auto Group has been awesome through all of this,” Pennock said. “(Miller) did only what he was told to do to make the deal happen. It’s really not his fault.”

But, what still lies in the balance is whose fault it is.

Farwell said he and everyone involved are close to a conclusion and soon the issue will be handled appropriately.

“I kind of have a preliminary agreement issued, I just have to wait to get everyone on the same page,” Farwell said. “It should be taken care of soon.”

As far as the trees are concerned, Pennock plans to meet with Miller in the near future to arrange a time that a donation can be accepted and the trees replaced.

“I’m trying to find a time with the commission to meet with him,” Pennock said. “I don’t want to penalize anybody; I just want it known that you can’t do that.”