CHICAGO — With the city way behind on answering requests to plant trees in parkways, frustrated residents could just go ahead and plant the trees themselves to avoid all the hassles, right?
While residents can simply call 311 and ask for free trees to be planted on public property like parkways (the space between the sidewalk and the curb), it can take years for those requests to be filled.
That leaves many homeowners and property managers asking in the meantime: "Can't I just do it myself?"
Yes, would be the technical answer, but, like most matters in the city, it requires a permit.
The $20 permits, which are ultimately waived because there is no mechanism through which the money is collected, are issued through the Department of Streets and Sanitation's Bureau of Forestry.
Specific aspects of the tree — like its placement, type and dimensions — are set forth by the city.
With approval from the forestry department, the next stop is the Chicago Department of Transportation to apply for a "public way opening permit," which costs $250. But there's another catch: The application is only open to contractors who are licensed through the transportation department to work on public property.
Presuming the permits are actually obtained from the forestry and transportation departments, residents or their contractors then need to call the city's "Digger" line (dial 811) two days before they plan to plant the tree. The city then alerts utilities to come out and inspect the location for underground pipes or wires.
But the planting can't be done on weekends "or any observed digger holiday" and must take place between 8 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
And if the property where the tree is being planted is on a street bordering a surrounding suburb, residents then have to take the added step of calling another system called JULIE (800-892-0123) before they start digging.
Of course, you could always plant your own tree, without permission, as many people have already done.
But keep in mind that anything you plant or build on a parkway (a flower bed, for instance) could be torn up at any time if the city or a utility needs dig in the area — something that happens frequently thanks to ongoing water main and gas line replacement projects.
But for those wanting to go the legal route, there are some other options.
For those lacking the patience to wait for a 311 tree request to be filled or unwilling to go through the city's red tape, additional tree-planting programs exist: Openlands offers grants so neighborhoods can hold community tree-planting days, and wards who participate in Participatory Budgeting, such as the 49th Ward, lets residents vote on where trees need to be planted using money from the ward.
Openlands' spring 2017 request log is already full, but it is accepting applications for the fall.
For those without much time or money, it's not easy being green.