Tree Ordinance One Vote from Becoming Law

BLYTHEWOOD – A proposed Landscape and Tree Preservation ordinance that has been in the works for more than a year is one final vote away from becoming law. If passed in its proposed form, the ordinance would require not only all new residential and commercial development in Blythewood’s Town Center District (TCD) to conform to stricter rules and regulations for landscaping and tree preservation, but, after five years, all established commercial and residential properties in the TCD would have to conform with the ordinance as well.

Conformity will mean that owners of these properties must establish landscape buffers and achieve a minimum tree density on their properties. Tree density will be based on a Density Factor Unit (DFU) that takes into consideration the number, size and sometimes specimen of trees in relation to the size of the property. It is a point system for tree protection, explained the Town’s planning and zoning consultant, Michael Criss.

What if a property has no trees? Criss said the property owner would have to either plant the required DFU or contribute to the Town government’s fee-in-lieu Tree Fund established to fund the planting, maintenance and replacement of trees on public rights-of-way and public property within Blythewood town limits.

For properties that will not bear the required density of trees for whatever reason (perhaps they are already paved with impervious surfaces or have underground or overhead utility lines), the Town/Zoning Administrator will have the authority to allow/require property owners to achieve alternative compliance by making a financial contribution to the Tree Fund in equivalent monetary value of the trees not planted. Such decisions by the Town/Zoning Administrator are subject to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals and then Circuit Court. The equivalent monetary value of a tree includes the total costs of the tree, professional planting, maintenance and guarantee.

Criss said the proposed ordinance would be more demanding on commercial properties than on residential properties, requiring tree density for commercial properties to be 50 percent greater than for residential properties. For example, under the point system, a treeless half-acre single-family residential property will be required to be planted with a DFU of 20 units per acre, equivalent to 10 2-inch-caliper trees. A half-acre commercial property would require a DFU of 30 units per acre, equal to 15 2-inch-caliper trees.

Compared to the current landscape and tree preservation code, the proposed ordinance adds a five-year conformity provision in the TCD, bases tree replacement on overall tree density rather than inch for inch tree diameter, gives more protection to the largest trees, adds commercial building foundation planting and has more specific planting areas and plant numbers for parking lot islands.

For existing single-family residential properties, Criss said the proposed ordinance increases the tree diameter that can be removed without a tree removal permit, from 6 inches up to 8 inches. Landscape plans for ground cover, flower beds, or shrubbery would still not be required.

The ordinance specifies the kinds of trees to be planted on properties in the town limits unless they are otherwise approved by the Town/Zoning Administrator. The Administrator will also have the authority to require landscape plans to be prepared by qualified designers.

“The primary goal of the tree protection ordinance,” Criss said, “is to maintain and protect the large healthy trees in the town. The proposed ordinance is biased in favor of saving large healthy trees rather than removing and replacing them, and replacement trees are preferred over contributions to the Tree Fund.”

While new builds on commercial and residential properties outside the TCD will be required to adhere to the ordinance, established land uses outside the TCD will not be required to conform to the ordinance after the five year period. However, commercial properties inside and outside the TCD would be required to conform if major improvements are made to the structures on the properties through renovations or expansions.

Mayor J. Michael Ross told The Voice that the final vote would not be taken on the landscape and tree preservation ordinance at the Monday evening regular Town Council meeting. The proposed ordinance is available for review at the Town Hall during regular hours, and a public hearing is required to be held prior to that vote. The next Town Council meeting is Monday, June 30, at 7 p.m., at the Manor. For questions about the ordinance contact Michael Criss, the Town’s zoning and planning consultant, at 754-0501.