Builder Will Work With City to Replace Topped Trees

Bob Shrago will come up with a plan with the City Forester to replace the roughly 100 trees he removed the tops from along the ravine by Park Avenue Beach as a result of last week's administrative hearing.

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.

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Longtime HP Resident August 20, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Shrago has an office in HP and he does not know the ordinance? That makes me wonder about he and his work ethic or knowledge.
Duke August 20, 2012 at 08:34 PM
I put the idiot behind this as the homeowner.........snot.
Longtime HP Resident August 20, 2012 at 09:48 PM
It looks as though the homeowner got away scott-free. She truly must have compensated Shrago very well.
Carol Moritz August 20, 2012 at 10:52 PM
I would say yes. How could the city allow this?
DTB August 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM
This guy knows the ordinance, he has built homes in the ravines before, he must think he is above the law, I hope they throw heavy fines at him!
DLM054 August 21, 2012 at 11:59 AM
How can the city allow this? Easy. Shrago pays a lot in permits and brings in added revenue with new construction on infill lots, huge remod projects, and tear-downs with new construction valued far higher than the old structure. Money talks - he'll get a small slap from the city becausto lose his business
DLM054 August 21, 2012 at 12:00 PM
That SHOULD read: Money talks - he'll get a small slap from the city because they don't want to lose his business.
jbeach August 21, 2012 at 12:52 PM
From all the tear downs and remodels around my home, I have learned that builders replace beautiful hard wood trees with cheap conifers. No one is responsible for watering or caring for them and most have died. I am sure we will see the same here. A fine would at least create some revenue when the ravine slowly erodes away after the vegetation dies.
Mosaic53 August 21, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Agree with previous comments. This builder has been in HP a long time & would literally be the Village Idiot if he did not - which I don't buy for a minute. At the very LEAST, he should've told the homeowner he would not touch the trees without her contacting the City first. Another entitled resident thinking they are "above" the law. A fine AND replacement are definitely in order. Te CIty Arborist should select the trees, make sure they are planted correctly & charge back the resident for the time & services.
Walter White August 21, 2012 at 10:09 PM
I'd do anything she asked me to do, too.
Quercus Alba August 22, 2012 at 12:48 AM
This arborist Leonardo Carmen works for Davey Tree. That should tell you something about their quality. Topping is not considered bad because it kills the trees; it's because the branches that grow as a result of it are weakly connected. This arborist was bought.
Quercus Alba August 22, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Don't worry, the city can take all the money they get in fines and change their name to Highland Desert!
Theodore Perez August 22, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Now we no why he did not place one of the Shrago signs up by his fine work. He should be banned from working in the city. That is nothing short of blatant disregard for the city, its trees, and the environment. Bob is a complete fraud.
Molly August 22, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Let 's see if Levenfeld and the city council have the guts to level a fine that will prevent this builder and any future builder/contractor from doing this. Gee...the homeowner was surprised the trees GREW and blocked her view. HP Govt has to start making some tough decisions because that's the right thing to do! This "solution" seems to be a delay tactic. There's been enough time time since the incident, the guilty party should have come to council with a proposal and a blank check!
David Levinson August 22, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Replacing 100 full-grown trees and ravine restoration should be very expensive. I think it's fair to reduce the fine based on the quality of the restoration. Otherwise, by what method can the city compel them to do a high-quality restoration?
Quercus Alba August 22, 2012 at 09:41 PM
David, you cannot replace 100 full grown trees. Yes, you can plant 100 trees but the time it took to grow these trees cannot be replaced. This is a point that is seldom considered when it comes to tree removal. None of us can replace time. We should do all we can to protect and maintain mature trees.
Jack Straw August 23, 2012 at 02:01 PM
This is pure unadulterated arrogance..
Mosaic53 August 31, 2012 at 01:39 PM
During my weekly walk with a friend yesterday, she took me past this property. It was a jaw dropping sight to behold. It's truly pathetic to think this homeowner and Mr. Shrago did not think they were doing anything wrong.
Molly November 01, 2012 at 02:11 AM
It's been two months since this became known. What has been the response by the city? Specifically Levenfeld and the Council? What has our Mayor done in response to this? Mayor Rottering, what response has the City of Highland Park had to this problem?
DTB November 01, 2012 at 11:27 AM
actually if you really know Bob Shrago, this is right up his alley!
Longtime HP Resident November 02, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Molly: I was just at the beach and thinking the same thing. Next time I need a tree lopped or chopped down I am not going to get a permit and just point to this instance as precedence. This town and it's double standards have made me crazy. I voted for Mayor Rotering and I am finding that she is no different than our past mayors and it is who you know and the amount of money you have. This tree incident - The Ruosso incident and I am sure there is more that has not made it to the paper.
Molly November 19, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Lets see...two months later, planting window for 2012 just about done. Has there been any progress?


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