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By Kyle Potter and Wendy Reuer, Published September 16 2013

Dispute over crabapple trees prompts Moorhead to look at policy

MOORHEAD – The orange Xs marking four crabapple trees in south Moorhead for their demise have almost faded.

Those four trees, on public land in front of 1116 and 1120 24th Ave. S., were supposed to be removed in January through an ordinance allowing the two residents to have the city replace them with a friendlier species – one whose fruit doesn’t clog street drains, stain sidewalks and litter front yards.

Neil Blanchard, a neighbor, asked the city to intervene.

“Personally, I think the beauty of the trees far outweighs the mess,” he said.

And for the time being, the trees are still standing.

A Moorhead City Council committee Monday discussed guidelines for what say, if any, Blanchard and other neighbors should have in whether the city should remove a tree at a homeowners’ requester.

Councilman Steve Gehrtz said the city’s policy should have clear parameters that would prevent individual tastes of property owners to dictate which trees can be removed.

“Just because somebody doesn’t like that specific species of tree doesn’t mean it should be taken out,” he said.

Crabapple trees line several blocks along 24th Avenue and other corridors in town, their splayed branches dropping hundreds, if not thousands, of taconite pellet-sized apples into lawns, sidewalks and gutters each fall. The trees were one of the city’s go-to choices for public spaces for new developments in the 1970s and 1980s.

But their fruit can become a nuisance, staining sidewalks and clogging drains. At a homeowner’s request, city forestry staff will inspect a property to determine if a tree has become enough of a problem that it merits removal. If it does, the city will replace it with one of a dozen-or-so approved species.

Crabapple trees are not the only ones to litter streets and sidewalks in Moorhead, although they have been the target of most removal requests. The acorns of pine trees or massive amounts of leaves that drop from ash trees can be just as vexing to residents, said Operations Director Larry Anderson at Monday’s meeting.

“Some people want trees cut down because they don’t want to rake the leaves,” he said.

The city has replaced 10 crabapple trees since the since modifying its ordinance in 2010, City Manager Michael Redlinger said.

Stretches of sidewalk on the east side of Fourth Street between 12th and 22nd avenues south are covered with so much of the squashed fruit, you could make jar after jar of crabapple jam – not that you would.

For years, Tom Krabbenhoft and his broom fought a losing battle against the fruit of the crabapple tree in front of his house at 2018 Fourth St. S. Crushed apples stained his brand-new sidewalk, and their fermenting smell was unbearable.

“You just can’t get rid of them. They’re horrible,” Krabbenhoft said.

He gave in last year and called the city to have it replaced. It was swapped out for a leafy – and fruitless – sapling in no time.

“You really have to give the city credit for their forestry,” he said.

One of Blanchard’s neighbors did the same a few years ago, and the effect was jarring, he said: a row of 30-foot crabapples punctuated by a 5-foot sapling.

Blanchard agrees the trees can be messy – cleaning his yard can be a pain – and concedes that a diseased tree should be removed. But the four trees in front of his neighbors’ yards are not sickly, he said.

He called City Councilman Mark Hintermeyer, who represents that area on the City Council, and asked him to look into why the trees at 1116 and 1120 24th Ave. S. were set to be pulled out.

One neighbor declined to talk to a Forum reporter, and another did not respond to a request for comment.

Redlinger said it’s the first time he knows of that a tree removal was halted.

“There are a lot of those trees in the city, and a lot of people look forward to those trees. They like the color,” Hintermeyer said.

In an interview, Hintermeyer suggested a few options to abate the tree dispute in his Fourth Ward and any that may follow. Maybe a homeowner needs to get signatures from neighbors in order to get a tree removed, he said. Or maybe a neighbor shouldn’t have any say in whether a homeowner can have a tree in front of their lawn replaced, he said.

Council members declined to formally direct staff to work on the policy Monday night. Anderson said he would discuss Hintermeyer’s suggestions with the forestry staff.

But some change may be necessary, Hintermeyer said, especially if homeowners disagree about the fate of a tree that straddles their property lines.

"I think we should have a say in it," Blanchard said. "I think it affects property values."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502 and Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530