By Bob Uphues
When it comes to public parkways, some homeowners behave as if that strip of public property belongs to them. After all, they mow it, so why not pretty it up with some shrubs or a tree? How about installing a nice new service walk from the sidewalk to the curb?
You can see examples of such walks and plantings all over town and, for the most part, no one bats an eye. They look nice, brighten up the joint.
But, there are always the over-enthusiastic parkway decorators – ones plunking down large boulders or planting large trees and shrubs and tall flowering perennials, sometimes directly in the pie-shaped parkways that frame side street intersections.
None of those plantings and hardscape additions are allowed by the village's code, and officials want to begin nipping those kinds of plantings and unauthorized hardscape installations in the bud in the future.
During the past couple of months, elected officials have provided some direction to staff on how to handle such obstructions and encroachments in the public right-of-way.
There's still some work to do before the village board votes to amend its zoning code to expressly state what will be permitted in the public right-of-way and under what conditions. Generally speaking, however, the village is moving toward a policy of "unless you get permission to do so, you can't do it."
Village inspectors are not prowling the streets looking for such encroachments and for the most part any existing encroachments will be allowed to remain, as long as they aren't safety hazards and don't blocking visibility for drivers approaching alleys, driveways and intersections.
"We're not going to remove any landscaping or go out there and cite people for having landscaping in the parkway … unless there's a visibility issue," said Michael Schwarz, the village's new community development director.
For now, village staff will be recommending adding to the code language that specifically states the only groundcover allowed on village-owned parkways is turf and that the only trees allowed are ones planted by the village.
That language might be amended further down the road, said Schwarz, depending on direction from the village board. For example, Trustee Katie Kaluzny mentioned that the Brookfield Conservation Commission was mulling the idea of an allowable plants list for village-owned parkways.
"There's a lot of people that are trying to go for no-mow, no-watering lawns," Kaluzny said.
Schwarz said the village should not under any circumstance allow private planting of trees and shrubs in the parkway, and stressed that he favored grass as the preferred parkway groundcover, because if the village needs to dig up the parkway for any reason – street improvements or utility system repairs and upgrades – the village shouldn't have to replace flowers or any other groundcover planted by residents in the public way.
While the staff recommendation is to specifically prohibit any private planting in the public way, they say the installation of service walks, sprinkler systems and the like would continue to be allowed, but only if a resident signs a licensing agreement that lays out who bears the liability and cost of replacing such structures and systems in the event they're damaged.
"Ideally, we're trying to educate people more than punish people," Schwarz said, adding the village should promote the new policies, whatever they turn out to be, in order to ensure residents know what the rules are going to be moving forward.