A Highland Park builder will work with the City Forester to replace the roughly 100 trees he removed the tops from as a result of an administrative hearing held last week at City Hall.
Shrago Design and Build owner Bob Shrago said he didn't realize he had violated city ordinance when he "topped" around 100 Steep Slope trees, a landscaping term that refers to cutting the tops off of trees.
"We made a mistake," Shrago told Patch after last week's hearing. "I take ownership of the situation."
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Shrago appeared at Thursday's hearing with Randi Elowe, the Belle Avenue homeowner who contracted Shrago to top the trees so that she could get a better view of Lake Michigan.
"When I first moved into the house, there was a beautiful view of the lake, Elowe said. "I was trying to achieve that a decade later."
According to the city's code, it's unlawful to "remove or perform any act that results in the death, loss in value, loss in aesthetic value or substantial destruction of any tree… in the Steep Slope Zone… without first obtaining a Tree Removal Permit issued by the City Forester."
Highland Park City Councilman Tony Blumberg explained to Patch that owning property by the lake brings with it added responsibility, including a restriction from tree topping.
"When you acquire ravine-side property you carry with it an agreement to preserve that slope," Blumberg said. "That's a responsibility you carry when you agree to purchase that land."
Highland Park City Manager Dave Knapp explained how the tree topping violated that aesthetic portion of that ordinance.
"It looks like a giant lawn mower went in," Knapp said.
City Forester Joe O'Neill and Shrago discussed whether or not topping trees is harmful to the trees during the hearing. O'Neill said the process is not conducive to a tree's good health, while an arborist Shrago brought with him to the hearing said that not a single tree had died as a result of the topping.
"They will grow back," arborist Leonardo Carmen said. "Any tree closer to the lake is more likely to survive because of moisture."
Regardless of the trees' survival, City Attorney Andrew Fiske called the tree-topping "profoundly disturbing," and asked administrative hearing officer Scott Levenfeld to levy high fines.
"It is a much easier thing to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission," Fiske said. "This is an extreme act of violence to the trees."
Instead of levying fines right away, however, Levenfeld told Shrago to work with O'Neill to come up with a plan for replacing the trees that they would present at a follow-up hearing on Sept. 6. Levenfeld indicated that the better the plan, the less severe the fines would be.
"The damage has been done," Levenfeld said. "The sooner I get a plan in front of everyone, the better."
Shrago called Levenfeld's ruling "extremely fair."
"I couldn't have asked for a better outcome," he said.