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City Looks Into Removing Stinky Ginkgo Trees for Residents on Hazel, Haynes

After residents from Haynes and Hazel complained of smelly Ginkgo trees in January, the city will be upping the leaf pick-up and street cleaning schedule this fall.

After months of debate, meetings and time spent holding their noses, Birmingham residents on the city's east side may be able to breathe a little easier this fall.

On Monday night, Department of Public Services Director Lauren Wood told the Birmingham City Commission that the city would be providing extra clean-up help to residents on Haynes and Hazel streets, many of whom are upset about mature Ginkgo trees dropping foul-smelling fruit on their sidewalk, street and lawns.

Plus, commissioners directed Wood and her department to quickly devise a plan for removing the affected trees, in the hopes of approving a plan at their next meeting.

Fruit smell compared to 'dog feces or vomit,' residents complain

The issue first came before the City Commission at their Jan. 9 meeting, when 36-year resident Norman Kern presented a petition signed by 16 residents, requesting the city treat the 28 fruit-bearing Ginkgo trees on both streets.

"The aroma from this fruit is commonly compared to dog feces or vomit," Kern wrote. "I wouldn't argue with either description. Our trees drop bushels of this smell onto our yards, sidewalks and streets each year. The smell gets on our cars as we drive to our homes and into our homes on the feet of our children and pets."

"I enjoy living in a walkable community," Kern added. "My wife and I walk downtown for dinner twice each month. Haynes and Hazel are not walkable during the months of September, October and November. They are not walkable on Halloween evening. There is just too much Ginkgo fruit on the sidewalks."

According to Wood, the Ginkgo trees in question are between 40-60 years old and are the female variety, which produce an odor-bearing fruit October through November. Currently, the city only approves the planting of male Gingko trees.

City to increase leaf pick-up, look at removing offending trees

So, what does Birmingham plan on doing?

As emphasized at a July 16 meeting with residents, chemically treating the trees is out of the question, Wood said.

"A chemical treatment of the trees is not recommended because of the lack of effectiveness in eliminating the fruit. In addition, our current Arboricultural practices do not include the treatment of city trees."

What Birmingham can do is perform extra leaf pick-up and additional street sweeping on Hazel and Haynes during the peak Ginkgo season. Wood said the city will offer leaf pick-up every week, rather than every two weeks, during the fall leaf collection season, on Haynes and Hazel. Street sweeping would also be upped to every week.

In addition, Wood said the city is looking at providing residents with a Bill Goat Industrial Vacuum, allowing residents to purchase the vacuum at the city's price, approximately $2,300-$3,000.

However, on Monday night, commissioners were anxious to do more, calling into question the city's Tree Preservation Ordinance, which bans the removal of healthy trees.

"If (residents) want a tree taken down, they should be able to get the city to take them down," Commissioner Tom McDaniel said, asking that Wood return to the next commission meeting on Oct. 15 with a plan to remove the offending trees.

Mayor Mark Nickita agreed. "These trees are creating a situation where we don't have a lot of choice in order to solve the problem," he said. "I'd rather get some other trees in there and move on."

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