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Posted on: September 14, 2020

Moratorium on Tree Planting in Public Right of Way

The Grinnell community has lost a significant portion of its urban forest due to the emerald ash borer (EAB) and the devastation from the August 10, 2020 derecho. The community has taken steps to replace many of the trees lost to previous storms and the EAB; however the 2020 derecho resulted in an unprecedented loss of a wide variety of species and age of trees. The city has the good fortune of having access to a tree inventory for all public spaces including public rights-of-way. City staff is currently working to compare this historic data from 2010 to existing conditions to determine the current state of our urban forest in comparison to previous assessments. Mayor Agnew is working to form a citizen task force that will be supplemented by experts in this field to review the data and utilize it to create a process and plan for the improvement of the urban forest on public property. We also want to use this process to take what we have learned from the 2020 derecho and previous storms in 2010 and 2007 to reduce damages caused by trees during these types of events.

The city of Grinnell does not regulate the planting of trees on private property. Property owners may plant trees on property they own. State law requires that you contact Iowa One Call (800)-292-8989 or email http://www.iowaonecall.com prior to digging. We also recommend careful consideration of the species of tree to be planted and the location to avoid conflicts with utility service lines, potential damage to structures during future storms, and potential negative impacts on adjoining properties.

The Grinnell City Council passed a moratorium on all tree plantings within the public owned rights-of-way effective 09-08-2020 through 12-31-2020. The moratorium was put in place to allow city staff to complete a canvassing of the current inventory of trees on public properties and to perform a thorough review of the species of trees allowed in the public rights-of-way along with other considerations.

Once the moratorium expires, it is anticipated that the existing tree planting for public rights-of-way permit process will remain in place. Permits may be obtained by the adjoining property owners once the moratorium expires by contacting the Grinnell Building and Planning Department at (641-236-2600). The permit is free. Below are some of the considerations for staff when reviewing permit requests.

  • Any tree within street right-of-way shall have a single trunk with a minimum of four (4) feet from grade to the first branch at the time of planting.
  • No conifers of any sort shall be planted in the right-of-way. Trees that are not on the List of Recommended Trees for right-of-way planting shall not be planted in the right-of-way.
  • Trees shall be planted a minimum of four and one-half (4½) feet from the edge of a sidewalk, curb, or alley right-of-way to the center of the tree. Trees shall be planted a minimum of five (5) feet from water service stop boxes or water valve boxes. Trees shall be planted a minimum of ten (10) feet from any hydrant, transformers, telephone junction boxes, manholes and driveway approaches. No tree shall be planted in a right-of-way less than twelve (12) feet in width.
  • Plantings shall be in compliance with the general visibility requirements of the zoning regulations.
  • The minimum spacing for a tree from a street light standard or transmission pole shall be one-half (½) of the normal spread for that species of tree, or thirty (30) feet, whichever is less. No tree shall be planted under transmission lines unless the tree at maturity will not be tall enough to interfere with the lines. (See list of recommended trees to be planted under overhead utilities.)
  • Trees and other plantings shall not be planted directly over an underground water line, sewer line, transmission line or other utility. Trees and other plantings shall be planted a minimum of two (2) feet from the underground utility. The applicant shall be responsible for contacting the statewide “One Call” notification system prior to any type of excavation. If a living or healthy tree or any other planting is damaged, or has to be removed to repair an underground utility, the City or any other approved franchise holder shall not be held responsible for the tree or the replacement of the tree or other planting.
  • Species of trees that are noted as undesirable on the List of Recommended Trees, available from the Director of Building and Planning, shall not be planted within the City limits.
  • In the Central Business District, plantings shall be done only with prior approval of the Council, and where the sidewalk abuts the curb four (4) square feet of ground with permeable surface shall be maintained for each tree.
  • An applicant proposing the plantings in City parks must receive approval by the Park Board prior to the issuance of a permit.

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