At tonight’s City Council meeting, the council will finally be asked to vote on passage of the city’s revised forestry standards, guidelines that were initially adopted in 2018 and that have been undergoing hotly debated revisions for over a year.

According to Tuesday night’s council caucus meeting, the lawmakers will also discuss issues involving residential lead inspections and a new real estate development on the West Side.

The city’s Shade Tree Committee, which reviewed the standards with a fine-tooth comb, is asking the council update the recommendations “to ensure best practices are followed by developers, residents and government agencies are adhered to when planting and maintaining trees in the public rights of way.”

The standards, some 40 pages long, also offer guidelines for the “selection and management of trees” throughout the city which has been struggling in recent years to restore its tree canopy and promote rain gardens and other greenscape projects.

Michael DiCiancia, the city’s senior forester, said the revised rulebook pays particular attention to the hows and whys of tree plantings and enforcement provisions, including a rating system for assessing damage to trees and recovering costs associated with that harm.

Plantings and care of trees are to conform to “specifications within the Jersey City  Forestry Standards and to the satisfaction of the municipal forester.” Trees are to be planted every spring and summer. Contractors are liable for damages caused as a result of their work.

Three-sided tree pit guards, open to the street side, and 18 inches high may be required by the city as protection from animals and pedestrians; however, sidewalk-level tree grates, which, the standards say “restrict tree growth and present tripping hazards to the public,” are to be prohibited.

DiCiancia said some tree species previously recommended have been removed and replaced as reflected in the new manual because they weren’t sufficiently hardy for an urban environment.

Ward E Councilmember James Solomon said the city should explore the possibility of extending the tree guarantee period for developers, from two to five years, to help ensure the future viability of new plantings.

To comply with the state’s Lead Hazard Control Assistance Act passed in 2021, which requires municipalities to inspect residential properties every two years for the presence of lead contaminants, the city administration is asking the council to “establish a database using information from the owners of rental properties” to track lead-related findings.

The first reports are due on or before June 2023, and any property owners who don’t provide the requested information by then, “so that inspections can begin thereafter,” will be subject to fines.

John Metro, city business administrator, said the city would apply revenue collected from inspection fees and fines toward the cost of paying for the inspections. Because the city’s Division of Housing Preservation is set up to do the record-keeping and anticipates having seasonal staff available to conduct the inspections, Metro said it makes sense for that task to be assigned to that division.

But Councilmembers-at-large Yousef Saleh and Daniel Rivera, joined by Gilmore, felt that that the city Division of Health & Human Services would be the more logical choice.

Meanwhile, Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano said that by forcing people to pay for these possibly unnecessary inspections, “You’re attacking one- and two-family homeowners, people who may be looking to sell their homes.”

Gilmore and Solomon also voiced reservations about an administration proposal to allow a prospective developer to take title to a dead-end extension of Morton Place (to the north and west of Kennedy Boulevard) to facilitate construction of a 15-story mixed-use project with 480 apartments, including 10 percent affordable units, plus 2,775 square feet of retail space and parking for 124 vehicles.

“We’re also discussing (including) a day care facility,” which, according to the developer’s attorney, Charles Harrington, would be “a need for people in the immediate area.”

Without that extension, the development team would be limited to a structure no more than eight stories with no requirement for affordable housing, Harrington said.

But Gilmore, calling the neighborhood “parking deprived,” said some Kennedy Boulevard residents walk several blocks to park on that dead-end block. He said there was room to accommodate about five cars on each side. “Vacating a public street vital to residents’ parking needs is a big price to pay,” he said.

Solomon wondered why the council was being asked to vacate the street before considering whether to approve the redevelopment plan for that area.  Once the council’s decision is known, Harrington said, the development team can better plan “the scale of the (proposed) redevelopment.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated, “Residents who apply to the city for new trees will be liable for any damage to property caused by planting operations and related work.” We apologize for this error.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...