Watertown council takes action on Rohs Way trees

The city of Watertown says 25 trees in the Rohs Way Subdivision, including this one, are damaged and need to be replaced by the developer. (Staff photo by Matt Bunke)
The city of Watertown says 25 trees in the Rohs Way Subdivision, including this one, are damaged and need to be replaced by the developer. (Staff photo by Matt Bunke)

Trees took center stage at last week’s Watertown City Council meeting as the council discussed both non-existent and damaged trees in the Rohs Way Subdivision on the south side of town.

The council voted to amend the landscaping plan as part of the subdivision’s site plan, reducing the required number of trees yet to be planted by 16. However, the council also voted not to accept 25 previously-planted trees in the subdivision because of damage caused by lawn equipment shortly after they were planted.

Rohs Way, located at the south end of Angel Avenue, just to the west and north of The Landings neighborhood, was approved as a subdivision in 2005. As part of that subdivision process, the city at that time approved a landscaping plan that included 79 trees.

So far, 49 of those trees have been planted — 25 of which the city council deemed to be damaged and unacceptable — and 33 have yet to be planted altogether.

Justin Rohs, the primary developer for the subdivision, asked the city to amend the site plan, removing those 33 trees from the landscaping requirements. Based on recommendations from the Watertown Planning Commission, the city council decided to meet Rohs in the middle by reducing the number by 16.

Most of the trees removed from the landscaping plan are located along the east side of Angel Avenue, north of the existing trail connection. In its recommendation to the city council, the Planning Commission noted that existing conditions in that area, including overhead power lines and existing trees and vegetation would make it difficult to plant more trees there. The originally required trees in that area do not actually border the development, but rather, are across the street from the northernmost properties in the subdivision.

“That east side, it’s a fairly wood area along those properties,” city council member Adam Pawelk noted during the meeting. “I’m not even sure why that was included as part of this plan. I think it was a case of somebody putting something together very quickly and it was in a big rush to get through, and it wasn’t studied as closely as it should have been. I think this is just correcting those errors.”

While the city is eliminating those trees from landscaping plan, it is requiring Rohs to plant the remaining 17 trees that are part of the plan within the next three months. The city council also voted to reject an additional 25 of the trees that already have been planted, saying the damage caused when lawn equipment was dragged across them is too severe to consider them viable.

Most of the trees feature a scar on the side several feet up from the ground. While some still have fairly healthy canopies, others are in poor condition or have died altogether. Only one of the trees in question is in front of completed home.

“I drove by the Rohs Way Development, and what a sad situation that is,” Mayor Charlotte Johnson said during the meeting. “Those trees have been there since 2006. They should have been replaced right away. We’d have nice trees that had grown and matured.”

After the landscaping is ultimately accepted by the city, City Administrator Luke Fischer said there is still a two-year warranty in which problems would fall back on the developer and not the city. However, Fischer said that process never started in this case, because the landscaping requirements were never met or accepted by the city.

There was some talk of hiring a trained arborist to examine the 25 trees to determine if any are viable long term. That way, the years of growth would be saved instead of starting over with a new tree. However, Johnson said she believes the scars alone make the trees ugly to look at, and the council voted unanimously not to accept any of the trees. The council is requiring Rohs to replace those trees in the same three-month time frame that he was given to plant the other 17 remaining trees as part of the plan.


Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]