Community leans on governmental branch

Hinsdale’s tree board promotes responsible management of village’s urban forest

Hinsdale Seventh-Day Adventist Church wants to improve access for the disabled and the elderly to its building at 201. N. Oak St. by creating a new drive area.

But a mature tree occupies the parkway where the driveway would go, a healthy and structurally sound tree that village staff has determined does not meet the criteria to grant the church’s application for removal.

Enter the Tree Board. Consisting of Hinsdale Trustees Alexis Braden, Michelle Fisher, Matt Posthuma and Scott Banke, who serves as board chair, the body addresses requests for tree removal that do not meet administrative requirements.

“We’re a tree village. We take our trees very seriously here,” Banke said as prelude to discussion of the case during the board’s meeting Tuesday night,

In presenting the case, village Forester John Finnell explained to board members that roughly 85 percent of the tree lies in the village parkway and has no structural or health issues that would otherwise qualify it to come down.

“But there are a couple points of concern,” Finnell continued. “There is a natural lean of the tree. It’s grown around existing trees on the church property to find sunlight, and in that process has overgrown some three-phase power lines that run east-west on Walnut Street.”

The tree has required pruning over the years to clear those utility lines. Also, there is evidence of root damage from past sidewalk replacement.

Banke said he found the church’s rationale for new drive to be compelling.

“The (Americans with Disabilities Act) component is very important to me,” he said.

This was the tree board’s first meeting since last September. Prior to that the quartet hadn’t convened since July of 2022. In comments to The Hinsdalean before the meeting, Finnell said it isn’t frequency of action but flourishing of public participation in one of the town’s most cherished resources that matters.

“It allows residents of Hinsdale that have the pulse of our village to weigh in on decisions regarding the community forest,” he said, noting his department has forestry records dating back at least 70 years. “This has always been something that the village has kept in high regard.”

Posthuma inquired whether the driveway entrance could be moved closer to the intersection of Oak and Walnut. But that would bring construction in conflict with various utility lines. As a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church, which shares use of the building, Posthuma testified to the need for better access.

“We have a member in our congregation who’s in a wheelchair, and he always has to go around from the parking lot. It’s very inconvenient,” he said.

Banke stated his position that the tree’s removal was warranted and also advocated that the $5,000 permit fee required be waived.

“You’re a church — you have a public use on multiple levels,” he said in support of his recommendation.

The church said it would include a replacement parkway tree as part of its landscaping place for the new driveway.

Board members, whose ruling is binding, voted unanimously to approve the request and waive the fee. Meeting adjourned.

Finnell said he appreciates the attention that trees receive in the community.

“I think the village was incorporated that way and that legacy has continued to today. It’s one of the most impressive pieces of infrastructure in all of Chicagoland,” he asserted.

Finnell said other municipalities also have tree boards, which can integrate broader interests than strictly industry guidelines.

“I have a recommendation as a forester, and I can schedule removal of trees because they’re damaged by storms or are diseased,” he said. “People can appeal my decision to the tree board, and they can determine the outcome with input from residents.

“There’s always challenges,” he said of maintaining a Tree City like Hinsdale, “but I think the community forest here in Hinsdale is a resilient forest that has stood up over the decades.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean