BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A number of low-hanging trees, whose spreading branches on city streets have become an obstacle to traffic, will be getting a trimming.

The City Commission, at its Sept. 17 regular meeting, approved a contract with a tree service firm to “elevate the canopies (under the trees) for 15-feet ground clearance so that taller trucks can pass through without hitting branches and limbs.”

The roadways are all on the city’s east side, and include West and North Overbrook, Indian Avenue, Dolphin Drive and Belmar Drive.

Commissioner Taylour Shimkus said in a comment following the meeting that the branches overhanging the streets had become so low, “there’s not enough room for fire trucks or ambulances to get through.”

That also includes other large vehicles, such as moving trucks, school buses, tractor-trailer trucks, or large delivery trucks, Shimkus said.

The tree-trimming project is one of what has been described as long overdue maintenance needs in the city, which are being addressed by recently-hired Public Works Supervisor Russ Schmader.

Schmader said at last week’s commission workshop meeting that the tree problem is one of the first things he noticed when he came on board.

“There were some low hanging trees that were getting damaged by garbage trucks, and there was a potential for emergency vehicles to hit them,” Schmader said.

Mayor Chris Arbutine said a garbage truck had hit one of the trees just a couple of weeks ago and was out of service for awhile.

The trees especially need to be trimmed before the planned road repair project begins next year on the east side, Schmader said, so that the construction equipment has enough clearance under the trees.

The cost of the tree trimming project is $5,200. All of the trees are in residents’ yards and grew to overhang the street. Their maintenance may be the residents’ responsibility in the future, said City Administrator Debra Sullivan.

Darlene Kavanagh, a resident, wanted to know when the low-hanging trees on the city’s west side residential streets would be trimmed.

“That is coming,” said Schmader. “This is just stage one.”

The commission also approved a contract with the tree service company to remove a hazardous laurel oak tree “in declining condition” in the park beside City Hall. That tree is near the playground equipment and could be a danger to children and others.

Schmader said that contract is part of the annual tree maintenance, “trimming anything that’s a danger over the playground.”

The cost of removing the laurel oak tree and other tree pruning in the park is nearly $6,000. Money is set aside in the budget each year for tree maintenance in the park, Sullivan said. She also mentioned a new tree would be planted to replace the one being removed.