Trees are city's job — sort of

I wonder if you could tell me who is responsible for the strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb? My neighbor wanted to plant a tree there and the city of Medford told him he needed a permit and what kind of trees to plant. My brother, on the other hand, lives on Holly Street. A tree planted by the city fell down and smashed his car flatter than a pancake. They told him the tree was not the city's responsibility. Sounds like the city of Medford likes to have its cake and eat it, too!

— Rand D., Medford.

We are huge fans of baked goods here at Since You Asked headquarters, Rand. So our initial response to your final comment is this: "What is the point of having cake if you can't eat it?"

But we took your tree query to the city's certified arborist, Bill Harrington, who kindly explained the seeming conundrum regarding Medford's trees.

First things first: The strip of land between sidewalks and curbs is the city's right of way. And the city is responsible for the maintenance of the trees in its right of way. Sorta.

You just knew there'd be a sticky situation when it comes to cutting this particular cake, didn't you?

On arterial or collector streets such as Holly, Stewart or Jackson, the city is responsible for the right of way in areas zoned single-family residential, but trees in commercially zoned areas are the responsibility of the adjacent property owner.

Even if your brother lives in a single-family home, Holly Street is zoned commercial, so the responsibility for the fallen tree is his (assuming he's the property owner).

On streets other than arterials or collectors, the city is responsible. However (again with the sticky caveats), homeowners may plant trees in the right of way — provided they get a free permit from the city and plant an approved tree.

Harrington said having the city's arborist approve the type of tree benefits everyone. Some folks insist on trying to stick a tree that will grow to 90 feet tall in a 3-foot-wide patch of dirt. Others plant trees that need a lot of water in dry patches or trees that need a lot of sun in shady spots.

Property owners living in new or older planned unit developments should also be aware that previous landscaping plans filed with the city may prohibit selection of their favorite trees.

Harrington encouraged any Medford resident with tree questions to call him directly at 774-2690.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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