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Fairfield addresses tree removal

(9/11) The Fairfield Borough Planning Commission began to review at its September 10 meeting possible changes to regulations that determine when a Main Street tree can be removed.

Current regulations state a tree can be taken down if it is diseased or damaged, but the commission felt there were other potentially justifiable reasons that were not included.

Additional reasons for removing a tree, the commission felt, should include taking a tree down if it is damaging sidewalks or property (such as porch or building foundations), blocks driveway line-of-sight, or if the size of the tree, or the damage to the sidewalk created by it, prevents the sidewalk from meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

The commission directed Robert Thaeler, principal planner with the county Office of Planning & Development, to generate a sample amendment to the tree removal regulations.

There was a time when roadside trees formed a canopy over nearly the entirety of Main Street, Fairfield.

Accidents, decay, storms and power companies eventually took a toll on the borough’s green tunnel, reducing the one-time cascade of greenery to a token population of trees along the borough sidewalks.

But as the trees suffered diminished numbers, they also began to strike back, growing to a point where they began to damage sidewalks and porch foundations.

The original array of Fairfield Main Street trees consisted of mostly oak trees, along with some maples, and were planted at a time when the sidewalks were predominantly brick.

Generally, "Back in the day," trees were not planted in tree wells, concrete structures which constrain the expansion of the root systems.

"Most of the original trees were not in tree wells," borough Planning Commission member Francis Cool said. "Sidewalks were brick then so they just pulled up a few bricks and stuck a tree in."

Problems really began when brick sidewalks were replaced with concrete slab sidewalks. However, concrete slabs do not provide the flexibility of brickwork, resulting in sidewalks becoming cracked and disheveled and the trees grew, and not as readily repaired as might have been the case when they were comprised of individual bricks.

Trees planted along the Main Street sidewalks in-town today have to be planted in tree wells, as per borough regulations, and must also meet state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) standards, since most of the sidewalks (and in fact, most front yards) lie within the state right-of-way.

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