Minnetonka neighborhoods without their typical dense woods are just, well, ordinary suburban neighborhoods, residents say.
That’s why some are outraged over the city’s plan to tear down dozens of trees this month for water main and sewer work.
“It’s the reason people live here in Minnetonka — the trees,” said Mary Schmidt, who wrapped four 70-year-old silver maple trees with bright yellow tape in protest after learning that they could be cut down.
The project, which is slated to start in mid-April, involves Shores Boulevard, one of 10 streets in Minnetonka getting full reconstruction work this spring that includes adding curbs and gutters.
But residents say it’s coming at a cost to the towering, mature trees that are so representative of their city.
Schmidt was one of about 30 residents who packed a City Council meeting last week to voice their concerns about the project. They hoped to persuade city leaders to reconsider the project’s designs so fewer trees will be removed.
City leaders, who don’t know how many trees will be affected, told residents that they try to balance tree preservation with the need to do necessary projects in a timely and cost-effective way. But the trees are in the city’s right of way and the project can’t be done without removing some of them, City Manager Geralyn Barone said.
“We are a city full of beautiful trees,” Barone told the City Council. “And this is a challenge when you have a project like a water and sewer replacement, which is critical. This neighborhood has had a lot of water main breaks in the area and that’s why it makes it especially challenging in that we need to address that concern.”
It’s only the second year the city has had to go in and replace aging utility infrastructure, but city spokeswoman Kari Spreeman said more streets will need the work in years to come.
“The city doesn’t want to lose trees either,” she said, adding that the city will adjust street reconstruction plans to preserve trees.
The project was approved by the city in February and bids were awarded at the council’s March 14 meeting.
But residents say they’ll continue to fight. Mary Schmidt and her husband Joe, who are longtime residents, have even threatened to get a restraining order to save their trees. They offered to pay thousands of dollars to the city for a boring technique that wouldn’t affect trees.
“It’s going to be like a tornado went off right down the street,” Joe Schmidt said. “These trees are priceless to us. … It could be done in a different manner. This would be utter devastation.”
This isn’t the first time tree loss in Minnetonka has riled up residents. Infill development and redevelopment within established neighborhoods have spurred resident outcry over tree loss before, and even swayed developers to downsize plans over the last few years.
Now, residents say that losing trees will harm the aesthetic of the thick canopy and could also reduce their property values.
“The trees are what makes the neighborhood,” said resident Karl Forsman, who could lose two to four trees. “It’s not like you live in the woods anymore; it’s like you’re living in Eden Prairie.”