Tree Law Comes With Cost

BLYTHEWOOD – Under proposed amendments to the Town’s landscape and tree preservation ordinance, owners of all existing commercial properties in Blythewood’s Town Center District would be required to conform to new landscaping and buffering requirements within five years of the adoption of the amendments. While new businesses (or newly developed properties) are required to meet the specifications of the Town’s landscape and tree ordinance, there has never been enforcement on existing businesses because they have sometimes existed for so long that there is no landscape plan to refer back to, the Town’s Planner, Michael Criss, told Town Council at a work session on April 15. The amendments were suggested by a committee headed up by Mikel Switzer and recommended for adoption to Town Council two weeks ago by the Town’s Planning Commission. Council passed first reading at its March meeting. The second and final reading is expected at the April 28 Council meeting.

“So far,” Criss said, “we’ve relied on persuasion, cooperation and volunteerism to get existing businesses to conform. But, is this something you want to impose on existing commercial property owners?”

He said it would mean commercial enterprises would be subject to such costly requirements as planting trees and shrubs around the perimeter of their properties.

“The Town has spent an awful lot of money on a Master Plan, which calls for these kinds of improvements, and at some point we have to start moving toward implementation of the Plan throughout the Town,” Councilman Bob Massa said. “We’ve done this with signs. We’ve given businesses seven years to conform to the sign ordinance. It seems to me five years is plenty of time.”

Criss agreed, “Why should existing businesses forever have bare lots?”

Councilman Bob Mangone suggested that the commercial property owners not only comply within five to seven years, but wondered if they should also be required to submit their plan for conformity to the new landscape and tree ordinance within 60 days of the passage of the ordinance. Criss disagreed, suggesting that businesses should not have to submit a plan until the year before conformity is required.

Councilman Tom Utroska asked, “Have we considered how this would affect the current businesses in the Town Center District?”

He suggested allowing seven years for conformity instead of five.

Mayor J. Michael Ross, however, took a dim view of the proposal as he addressed his fellow Councilmen.

“As you sit around here, none of you are true business property owners,” he reminded them. “We’re at a critical time when governments are telling people what to do and being so restrictive. When you start telling existing businesses they have to conform, are businesses like Carolina Wings with a lot of asphalt going to have to chop up their paving to plant shrubs? When you start talking about the little businesses, we need to look at what it’s going to cost them.”

Councilman Eddie Baughman agreed.

“When some of these small businesses go out of business (because of the costs of this ordinance), then you’ve got a vacant space,” he said.

“But if we say the existing structures never have to make any changes,” Mangone said, “it will always look like it does now.”

New rules for residential plantings

The amendments also proposed new rules and regulations for residential property owners such as the requirement that irrigation spray heads be directed entirely onto pervious, soil or target area surfaces with no more than incidental spraying of impervious streets, driveways, parking areas or sidewalks.

Property owners, both residential and commercial, would be responsible for keeping required plantings well maintained for at least three years after planting. The amendments also allow property owners to remove one healthy tree per year. Up to five healthy trees can be removed per year on properties of two acres or more.

A fee-in-lieu Tree Fund is proposed as an alternative compliance method. This method is achieved by contributing the equivalent monetary value of the required replacement trees to the Town’s Tree Fund, which is “dedicated to the planting, maintenance and replacement of trees by the Town on public rights-of-way and public property (such as the park) within town limits.”

After reviewing the entire ordinance, Ross asked, “But does it really achieve what we want?”

The ordinance’s author, Rick McMackin, said, “The intent is to keep as many trees as possible, to maintain a tree canopy in the Town as much as possible.”

The proposed amendments to the tree ordinance are available for review at Town Hall. Those who have questions about the ordinance or who would like to comment before it is voted on can do so at the April 28 Town Council meeting which will be held at 7 p.m., at The Manor.

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