City takes weeks to deal with fallen tree due to backlog of requests and finger-pointing between agencies
by JASON MEREL
A large tree that crushed two parked cars and damaged the roof of an adjacent coach house in the alley of the 4900 block of West Winnemac Avenue during a storm after midnight on July 5 was finally removed by a crew 3 weeks later on July 27 after some finger-pointing between the city and Metra about whose property it was on.
Resident Sean Fletcher and his wife Lisa were inside the coach house at about 12:45 a.m. when the tree fell and a branch speared an air conditioning unit and knocked it from the window. The Fletchers went outside and found that a boxelder tree that once stood at the end of the alley, which they had been concerned about for years, had fallen on their two parked and unoccupied vehicles.
“LUCKILY, the cars stopped the tree from crashing through the roof,” Fletcher said on July 26, prior to the tree’s removal. “I’m sure there’s damage up there but we have to get the tree out of the way to inspect it.”
The Fletchers provided information showing service requests to the city from June of 2019 and October of 2020, so when the tree fell it was not news to the city. Both requests were cleared as “no tree present.”
“APPARENTLY they were going to the front of the house, when the tree was actually in the alley,” Fletcher said. He said that when he called 311 to follow up on the second request, he was told that the city isn’t responsible for trees in alleys. The city also does not clear snow from alleys because that could damage private property.
After the tree fell, Fletcher cut away some of the fallen branches to make the property more accessible from the alley, filed a debris removal request on July 11 and was told there was a 5-day estimated wait time for service.
His main concern by July 26 was the potential for a fire due to the rapidly drying, 3-foot pile of debris in the alley within a few feet of the coach house.
The 3-week delay of the tree’s removal appeared to be due to a combination of a disagreement between the City of Chicago and Metra as to whose property the tree was on before it fell and a backlog of service requests from the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Bureau of Forestry.
A neighbor called Nadig Newspapers to report the problem after the Fletchers contacted the alderman’s office and weeks went by without any cleanup. The newspaper contacted Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th) on July 26 and the alderman said that he was aware of the problem and that his ward office staff was doing their best to identify whose property the tree fell from.
“We’ll continue to do everything within our ability to service that resident,” he said. Gardiner added that he’s been seeing 2- to 3-week delays on requests due to a service backlog.
THE TREE WAS removed the following morning on July 27.
An aerial view of the property through the Cook County Assessor’s Web site appears to show the tree was on city property. The City of Chicago and Metra both provided overlay maps of the relevant PINs involved in their determinations, however, the map referenced by the city and provided by 45th Ward office staff showed the tree was on the boundary of Metra property.
Metra public relations manager Meg Reile said in an e-mail that Metra staff confirmed they had already communicated to the alderman’s office that the tree was not on rail property.
“My understanding is that the city required that our property line be fenced at the alley,” Reile said. The stump of the fallen tree is located on the city’s side of that fence.
Fletcher said that staff at Gardiner’s office told him they were dealing with Metra regarding the issue.
“At first they were helpful and I was very grateful to them in my e-mail replies, but then we hit that wall and it got frustrating because it seemed like nobody wanted to do anything,” Fletcher said.
Ultimately, liability for the property loss will be determined after the insurance companies get involved but for now the residents said that they are happy the tree is finally gone.