Residents’ Responsibilities for Right-of-Way Trees

Residents’ Responsibilities for Right-of-Way Trees

Marple’s homeowners are essential partners with the township in restoring and preserving our community forest. The trees on public property (such as parks and along roadsides) and trees on private property collectively provide our community with a protective leaf canopy that helps to make it a safe, healthy and attractive place to live. We all benefit from our combined efforts to protect and care for the trees here in Marple.

Nowhere is this township-resident partnership more evident than the place where private and public responsibility for trees intersects—the township right-of-way that borders the paved road in front of residential properties. For many homeowners the fact that a strip of land along the edge of the paved road in front of their property is township property, yet they are responsible for its care and maintenance, is confusing. Because maintaining any plantings, sidewalks, driveway aprons and curbs in this area is the homeowner’s responsibility, many assume that it is their private property. Yet it is not. Homeowners must have township permission and defer to township regulations to alter or maintain the area. This includes caring for any trees growing in the right-of-way.

The Right-of-Way

Our legal tradition provides for “the right to pass over property owned by another party.” Historically this concept has been the basis for creating and maintaining roads in our communities. For land that is intended to be streets (or other situations which require passing over private property), municipalities establish regulations that create what is called a “right-of-way.”

The right-of-way typically encompasses both the paved areas for use of vehicles, called the “cartway,” plus strips of land along each side where shoulders, curbs, gutters, sidewalks or drainage swales exist. Called the “ultimate” right-of-way, these strips of land which abut the paved road typically appear to be private property, but, in fact, they belong to the township.

This right-of-way between private property and the paved road, is the owner’s to use for access to the driveway, mailboxes, and for small plantings, but it is regulated  by the township to keep it available for use by utilities or other public projects. Anything semi-permanent, such as a fence or large hedge or trees, would obstruct workers who may have to maintain utility lines, lay piping, or widen the road.

Owner’s responsibilities

It is in the right-of-way is where the partnership between residents and the Township for the care of our community forest is most important. Marple’s Municipal Code holds homeowners responsible for maintenance of any trees on right-of-way property. While today planting trees in the right-of-way is discouraged by the Township, many of our streets in older neighborhoods are lined with trees between the curb and sidewalks—most of them planted long ago. As they age, they need more and more care. Although these trees are technically public trees, they are to be cared for by the homeowner.

On township rights-of-way the Code requires homeowners (or a arborists that they hire) to:

  • Prune tree branches so that they are at least 9 feet above sidewalks. Those branches that overhang the streets must be at least 11 feet above them.
  • Trim trees and shrubs in the right-of-way so that sight lines to traffic, safety signs or traffic signals are not obscured.
  • Prune broken or dead branches of trees correctly to promote proper healing of the wound.
  • Remove hazardous or dead trees (by permit from the township).

To maintain the protective foliage canopy that our community forest provides, homeowners are encouraged to:

  • Plant young, new trees on their property to enhance its value.
  • Choose appropriate tree species from the township list of Recommended Trees for Marple. (available at the Township building and on this website).
  • Replace any trees on the right-of-way that must be cut down, with at least one new tree located somewhere on their property.
  • Protect trees on their property from damage from weed trimmers, lawn mowers or compaction of the soil over their roots by parked cars or heavy construction equipment.
  • Avoid planting trees under overhead utility wires.
  • Have their trees evaluated by a qualified arborist or the township forester every few years to identify and correct any potential problems.

By Liz Ball, Marple Tree Commission