Man Takes Shrubbery Fight With City Public

City Says Man's Trees, Shrubs Pose Safety Hazard

MADISON, Wis. - A fight over foliage is pitting one downtown resident against the city of Madison.

Ken Backus lives at the corner of East Johnson and North Baldwin streets, and has put up signs in protest because the city is forcing him take down trees and shrubs that he has had on his property for more than a decade.

Backus said the trees and shrubs make the area more attractive and fit the neighborhood well. But the city said the large shrubs are a safety hazard for traffic, bikers and pedestrians.

"It's frustrating because myself and a lot of people in this neighborhood and all over town are really making an effort to make the city look good," Backus said. "Everything here would need to be completely removed, completely gone."

He said his plants have never been a problem since they were put in more than a decade ago.

"Somebody complained. Somebody made a complaint," Backus said.

He said that's why he is making his fight with the city public, with signs and literature.

Officials from the zoning division said that the shrubs are a traffic safety concern and they need to be drastically trimmed down. The city said the plants that are in the right of way are just not allowed to be there.

"Their concern over there is that I didn't get a permit to plant what I did, and I didn't know you needed a permit 14 years ago. And even if I did get a permit, everything I planted is not on their approved list," Backus said.

Backus said he's not asking for an exception to the rules. Rather, he said he wants the city to take a fresh look at rules that are decades old.

He said he's not backing down, even with warnings from the city that if he doesn't take care of it, city staff will at his expense.

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