Planting in the Public Right of Way

Planting Instructions

Generally, when you plant trees, shrubs, and hedges you must stay within your property; however, some special planting of trees is authorized by permit in the public right-of-way, which usually includes the tree lawn, an area between the street and sidewalk and, in most cases, a 1-foot strip on that side of the sidewalk closest to your house. 

The City encourages the planting of trees, because of the special character they give a neighborhood. The permit required ensures that certain arbor cultural specifications and standards of practice are adhered to. Trees can beautify, add privacy, offer protection from the sun and wind and act a sound barrier; but they also must not: 
  • Obstruct a driver's vision
  • Interfere with a pedestrian's use of sidewalk
  • Upheave sidewalk or driveway aprons
  • Cause unusual or unnecessary maintenance problems. 
The permit is obtained from the Public Works Department and any questions should be directed to the Public Works Department by calling 993-0252. There is no fee for this permit.

When to Obtain a Permit

Public trees, by ordinance cannot be willfully or maliciously damaged. Any resident wanting to treat, spray, fertilize, prune or remove a public tree must first obtain a permit. It is recommended that the City Forester be contacted first 993-0252, it may be deemed necessary and the City will do it as time and resources become available.

Public Right of Way pic

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the Public Right of Way?

The Public Right of Way (ROW) is the dedicated space for public infrastructure: streets, sidewalks, and utilities. The ROW generally extends beyond the constructed street or sidewalk by a couple of feet. This area may be a slope between a back yard fence and the road, landscaping, or manicured lawn in the front or side yard. A property survey will locate the exact location where the private property transitions into the ROW. Figure 1 shows an example of where property lines exist and what is considered the ROW.

What is the difference between Right of Way and Easement?

Simply put, an easement is a right granted to a person or party to use the land or property of another. Easements can be temporary or permanent. A Right of Way is the actual land area acquired for a specific purpose. If a property has an easement running across it, the rights to use the property are extended to the party it was issued to, but still owned by the original property owner.

Who maintains the City Right of Way?

The maintenance responsibilities for the ROW lie on the individual property owners, with the exception of the roadway driving surface. Grass shall be mowed and landscaping manicured or maintained to keep the sidewalk free from branches, leaves, foliage, dirt, debris, snow, and ice. Figure 1 shows some locations where the property owner is responsible for maintaining the lawn or landscaping. The Olivette Municipal Code, sections 515.070 and 515.080 clearly define that sidewalks and tree lawns adjacent to the roadway are to be maintained by the adjacent property owner, even areas within ROW.

What is a Site Distance Triangle?

A Site Distance Triangle (SDT) is a corner of any intersection that is needed to be kept free of visual obstacles to allow a travelers to see oncoming traffic. The SDT area (25’ x 25’) is shown in blue on Figure 1 and is created from the curb lines of intersecting streets, Olivette Municipal Code, section 220.010. This represents the area where all trees, bushes, and vegetation located on private property which overhang a street or sidewalk are to be kept trimmed to avoid obstructing the view of travelers, in a vehicle or pedestrians. Any landscaping taller than three feet in height or hanging below seven feet shall me prevented from blocking their view.

Can utilities interfere with Right of Way plantings?

Underground and overhead utilities may impact any plantings within or adjacent to the Public ROW. Careful thought of the specific tree, bush, or vegetation should be evaluated. If there are overhead power lines or utilities an ornamental or more decorative tree may be considered to maintain a low canopy height. A large canopy tree would grow too tall and impact the overhead lines, leading to the utility company cutting off the top to prevent potential damage to the lines during high winds, snow, or ice.

Underground utility companies have rights to the Public ROW and priority to the space, along with the City. Selection of plants should be determined based on what utilities may be underground and how deep they are. Gas, electric, and fiber optic lines are typically shallow and could get intertwined with roots of plantings. Storm and sanitary sewer tend to be much deeper and have less chance of impacting the roots, but their construction zones are much larger in width due to their depth.

Other Regulations

Another important ordinance to be aware of pertains to the location of hedges, shrubs, plants or other growths adjacent to street intersections.

Regulation of Hedges, Shrubs, Plants or Other Growths Adjacent to Street Intersections 

"No person shall erect, place, maintain, or permit the location or maintenance of any hedge, shrub, plant, or other growth to a height greater than three (3) feet or a tree having any portion of a limb less than seven (7) feet above the ground, within a triangle formed by the curb lines of intersecting streets and a line drawn between two (2) points located twenty-five (25) feet along each curb line measured from the point of intersection of the curb lines. At intersecting private streets, this requirement shall apply only to locations at which a traffic control sign or device has been installed by the City or other public authority (Ordinances 757, 1706)."