Removal of Tree Irks Neighbors


The removal of trees and a fence in the unimproved alley that runs behind the homes in the 6200 block of North Knox Avenue and the 6100 block of North Kirkwood Avenue has led to a dispute among neighbors as a couple on Knox prepares to build an addition to their house.

The alley has been used as an extension of the back yards of the homes for an estimated 60 years. Over the years, fences, gardens, trees and at least one shed have been placed in the alley.

The use of the public way as part of a private back yard is a gray area of the law, but the City of Chicago for the most part has allowed residents to use unimproved alleys as part of their yards. In many areas, such as Sauganash and Edgebrook, vehicular access to alleys is not needed because homes have driveways

However, the removal of about a dozen trees from the alley that separates a home on a double-size lot at 6243 N. Knox Ave. from homes at 6142 and 6146 N. Kirkwood Ave. caught the interest of a city Bureau of Forestry inspector. One of the Kirkwood home owners contacted the bureau on Nov. 26 after she saw a tree removal company chopping down and digging up trees from the alley and placing some of them into a chipper.

The bureau issued five citations to the tree company for not having a permit for removing a tree from the public way and five more citations for causing injuring to a city tree. City Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales said that a 30-day permit was issued to allow a barricade to be erected in the alley while trees were to be removed from the property at 6243 N. Knox and that the department was not aware that trees in the public way also had been targeted for removal.

Some of the trees that were removed had been planted by residents, but they are considered city property because they were on the public way, Scales said. Residents cannot legally plant trees in an alley, although small shrubs that can be easily removed are permitted, Scales said.

Much of the alley dispute centers around the placement of an iron fence which was taken down on Nov. 26. The fence, which some residents said had been in a section of the alley for nearly 60 years, was positioned several feet closer to the property on Knox than to the homes on Kirkwood.

The Berghoff family on Knox is seeking to have the fence re-installed after an addition to their house is built so that the fence would run down the middle of the alley, giving each house use of half of the 16-foot-wide alley. The Zoning Board of Appeals has issued a variation for the addition, and a construction permit for the project, which calls for a one-story addition with a basement, a small second-floor addition and a covered patio, was issued on Nov. 9.

“They’ve been bullied for years and have not been allowed equitable enjoyment of the alley for years,” said attorney James Moorhead said. Moorhead said that the alley will be used to access the property during construction and that the Berghoffs have offered to reimburse their neighbors for items that had to be removed from the alley.

“Where do they get the right to pick up and move a fence?’ said Trish Enright, who lives at 6142 N. Kirkwood. “If they can do this, everyone can.”

Enright said that the Berghoffs have told her that construction crews will remove her garden from the alley if she does not do it herself.

Gloria Athanis, who lives at 6146 N. Kirkwood, said that she received no notice that the trees and the fence were going to be removed. “We don’t have a legal claim to stand on, but that is not what this is about,” Athanis said. “This is about being neighborly.”

Enright said that several years ago another home owner who lives on the alley handled a construction project differently. Enright said that the resident received permission from a neighbor to remove her garden from the alley in exchange for installing a new one after the construction was completed.

Enright said that she learned of the planned addition in 2006 when community opposition prevented an attempt by the Berghoffs to buy a portion of the alley but that residents did not object to the addition. “We told them that it’s fine if they want to build an addition and improve their home, but restore the alley the way it was after you’re done,” she said.

Enright and Athanis said that fences and gardens were placed in the alley before many of the current property owners purchased their home and that the Berghoffs are not the only ones who are using less than half of the alley behind their home.

“This is all about 3 feet,” Athanis said. “No one ever touched anything. Leave it alone.”

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