Downtown trees are costing business owners thousands of dollars

Trees that line Shoppers Row are causing major headaches for business owners

Trees that line Shoppers Row are causing major headaches for business owners who have been dealing with property damage caused by clogged underground sewer lines.

The culprit is the 34 London plane trees and the 38 Japanese cherry trees that were planted along Shoppers Row and Pier Street 30 years ago.

Peter Wipper, city clerk, said since then the trees have grown substantially taller and while they help beautify the area, their roots are spreading and impacting sewer lines.

“Although the trees are considered beautiful, they have grown to a size which is impacting both public and private above ground and below ground property and utilities,” Wipper said in a report to council. “Namely, it is the London plane trees which are of concern.”

Wipper said that over the last several years the city has received complaints relating to lifting sidewalks, blocked roof drains, obscured business signage, fallen leaves being tracked into businesses, sap dripping onto parked vehicles, tree root damage to sewer lines, and damage to building awnings caused by branches when it’s windy.

The problems brought on by the downtown trees was first reported in the Mirror earlier this year.

Jan Tees of the Downtown BIA, sent an e-mail to businesses after an article appeared in the January 18 edition of the paper.

Tees asked affected business owners for their input and recently presented their complaints to the city.

What emerged as  the biggest and most expensive problem is impacted sewer lines. In the last three years, the city has received five claims for damages caused by sewer backups. Wipper said of those claims four were denied and one is pending.

The worst is a tree at 970 Shoppers Row which has prompted 13 calls for service and a claim for $50,000 which is still active. It’s believed the service pipe is broken and the city is recommending council replace the pipe and install a cleanout in order to inspect and auger the line as necessary.

Stephen Grant, who co-owns the building which holds Monks, Online Gourmet and Royal LePage, has lost business over damage caused by the city’s trees. Grant’s $50,000 claim to the city for repairs is currently still pending.

“The tree has destroyed the pipe that connects our sewer line from the building to the sewer main and the tree has then grown up the pipe into our building (over 60 feet), causing a sewer backup,” Grant wrote in an e-mail to the Downtown BIA. “To repair it, we had to close Online Gourmet for about three weeks to cut and jack hammer existing damaged pipes and reinstall new ones.”

Grant figures that if the city refuses to repair the broken line, which is about 12 to 15 feet away from his building, he and his fellow owners will be on the hook for $200-$300 to auger the lines each time in order to avoid future back up into their building.

Victor Choo, president of People’s Drug Mart at 984 Shoppers Row said the trees have caused the business “nothing but grief” in the past few years.

“Twice a year the toilets in our bathrooms have to be unclogged and twice a year our sinks in the staff room have to be unblocked,” Choo wrote. “The plumbers that have come in to service this problem all say that the tree roots are growing into the sewer pipes and causing a blockage. The cost of the plumbers adds up to $500 a year annually.”

Michael Corday of Marco Investments said their building at 1000 to 1040 Shoppers Row has been obstructed by the trees.

“The trees have grown to such an extent in front of Marco’s building…that they have made the signage useless and also they have grown over the top of the building to an extent that when the leaves fall off the trees, they are clogging the drains on our roof,” Corday said.

Wipper said staff agrees the London plane trees need to be replaced with something more suitable but first the downtown’s aging infrastructure needs to be dug up and replaced. The water system needs to be replaced as does the sanitary sewer system which is at the end of its life. The storm drainage system is undersized and electrical service to the street lights is failing, according to Wipper.

“It would not make sense to replace the trees until the underground utilities have been replaced,” Wipper said. “The cost to replace this aging infrastructure is considerable and will need to be done on a block to block basis as the city’s budget allows.

“The first stage is currently underway with the redevelopment of the St. Ann’s block. Staff agreed that the trees and their roots should be managed until they can be replaced.”

As a temporary fix, the city has installed cleanouts at two different problem trees but the service line still needs to be inspected.

City staff are recommending council, which was presented with the downtown tree saga at Tuesday’s council meeting after the Mirror went to press, install cleanouts at four additional problem tree sites.

Staff also recommend the city prepare an inventory of downtown street trees and implement a work plan to prevent roots from problem trees from blocking sewer lines.