I am feeling like Alice in Wonderland, and it's not a good feeling.
The destruction of the Steep Slope at the back of 117 Belle involved two discrete acts. In the winter, trees were topped. Then on July 3rd, all of the horizontal limbs of trees were sawed off. There was a rationale, immoral as it was, to the tree topping. The homeowner wanted a view. However I am unable to comprehend why every limb of so many trees, down to the ones at the very bottom of the slope, which presented no obstruction of the lake view, would be stripped.
This July 3rd action was apparently done in haste, with much litter lying in the roadway in the process. It appeared as if the intention, had work not been ordered stopped, was to cut the whole forest of trees down to the ground.
The administrative hearing was based on an erroneous conflation of two events. I am surprised that a more accurate description was not presented, and I believe It is important to understand that there was a sequence of events in order to determine how this all happened and what we can to do prevent similar situations in the future. I observed those topped off trees in the winter. They looked terrible, but I naively assumed that this action was within the legal rights of the homeowner. Is it possible that I am the only person who observed this initial act of destruction? Was any other citizen more vigilant than I? Did any personnel from the Park District, who frequent that area regularly, make a call to the Forestry Department?
Approximately six months elapsed after the initial tree topping until the event on July 3rd. Since the Steep Slopes are such a precious (and fragile) asset to Highland Park, I would have hoped that there could have been more careful supervision of the initial request for "trimming," especially since there have been similar violations on Steep Slopes in the past. But Mr. O'Neill, the City Forester, has stated that it is impossible to check up on all of these requests. I like to assume he would have made a quick run to inspect a possible violation had he been informed. He says that he did not receive a single call.
If a call had been made, it's possible that the final devastation would not have occurred. It is obvious that more careful oversight is needed and that operating procedures need to be changed. Permission to do any landscaping on Steep Slopes should be by permit and inspection only. At this point the plan for the reforestation of the slope is in the hands of the very people who destroyed it, a group that has chosen to defend itself not only by claiming ignorance of the law but by misstatements of basic scientific facts. Let 's all climb out of the rabbit hole.
Assertions made at the last administrative hearing were an insult to the intelligence of the community. These assertions were at best ignorant and at worst disingenuous. I feel I need to state:
- Hacking off the tops and then all the limbs of trees is an act of barbarism
- Sucker shoots do not constitute true regeneration.
- Moisture from Lake Michigan will not be a significant factor in bringing back the wonderful green canopy that existed last summer. It is gone forever.
Homeowners, contractors, and landscapers who demonstrate such a willful disregard of the law and cynicism about the community in which they live and/or work should be penalized to the fullest extent possible. "Ignorance of the law" is no excuse. Indeed it provides just cause for revoking licenses to work in Highland Park.
Admitting liability should not mitigate the penalties levied. Our concern now should be that the best possible plan is developed. Creating that plan is not a favor to the community, to be rewarded, but part of the penance that those involved must pay.