Edina council revises order to remove trees

Petition signers said the trees pose a hazard by obstructing the view at an intersection. Now, they will be trimmed.

Some controversial trees at a problem intersection in Edina will live on for now, albeit with a severe haircut.

Last week the Edina City Council changed its mind about an order to remove almost 30 trees at the intersection of Sally Lane and Valley View Road, saying a less-severe solution should first be tried to give drivers more visibility at the corner.

Wayne Houle, the city's director of public works, told the council that five large conifers at the southeast corner of the intersection should be trimmed up a minimum of six feet from the ground. He said he would visit the site to see if that improves visibility sufficiently, and would recommend more vegetation removal if necessary.

Council members said they wanted the trees' lower branches trimmed at least eight feet from the ground to agree with other city ordinances, and passed a resolution saying so.

"It's quite an elegant solution," Mayor Jim Hovland said. He said it achieved the city's goal of increasing public safety while allowing homeowners Douglas and Jill Benner to keep the large fir trees and a long row of tall arborvitae that shields their yard from a busy road.

The city had ordered the Benners to remove the trees by mid-November after a petition signed by almost 60 residents asked that the hedge be removed for safety reasons. Sally Lane forms the leg of a "T" with Valley View Road. Drivers exiting Sally Lane to Valley View have had to nudge their vehicles' noses out into traffic lanes to see if anyone is approaching from the curving road to the south.

The city order to remove the trees was suspended after the Benners appealed, hiring their own traffic engineer to analyze the intersection. That study suggested the issue could be handled by trimming two trees at the corner and adding a sign warning of the intersection ahead.

The Benners, who did not return Star Tribune phone calls, argued that the hedge protected children in their yard from the busy road. They said the arborvitae had been planted 19 years ago by a previous homeowner who got verbal permission from the city to do so. They also pointed out that there haven't been any reported traffic accidents at the location for at least a decade.

Houle assured council members that the city will monitor the intersection to make sure the evergreens are sufficiently trimmed.

The future of the hedge isn't assured, though. Council Member Josh Sprague reminded everyone that there's a proposal for a sidewalk along that side of the street. If that is ever built, he said, the arborvitae will have to go.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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