Parker: Tree Rules Unwieldy

BLYTHEWOOD – A year after the Planning Commission revised and combined the Town’s Landscaping, Buffer Yards and Tree Preservation Ordinances into one ordinance and sent it to Council for a vote, the proposed ordinance continues to be held in abeyance as the Town operates under a tree preservation ordinance that Town Administrator Gary Parker declared at Monday night’s Town Council meeting to be complex in its requirements and difficult for staff to administer.

“The current ordinance places more burden on the individual homeowner and developer than is reasonable,” Parker told Council.

He said it also burdens the Town Administrator with too much discretion in making decisions about compliance. He said it is time for Council to consider the revised ordinance because “the ordinance isn’t workable as a practical matter. It requires so many trees to be replaced that it is impractical to place them on the particular lot or lots in question or in the common area.”

As an example, Parker said that under the current ordinance the developer must replace the removed trees with actual trees that are to be placed in a tree bank at some location.

“The proposed revised ordinance allows the developer to write a check for the equivalent value of the required replacement trees,” Parker said, “and the money is deposited in a tree bank account for later purchase of public area trees.”

Parker said another improvement in the proposed ordinance is that instead of a tree replacement formula based on the number of trees, the formula is based on tree density, which is giving credit for the cumulative size of trees being saved and compensating for any shortfall by replanting. The tree diameter threshold for removal/replacement in the proposed ordinance increases from 6 to 8 inches.

A provision in the proposed ordinance that quickly became controversial at the meeting requires Town Center District businesses to comply with the planting/landscaping ordinance within five years after the ordinance is adopted. Malcolm Gordge, Chairman of the Planning Commission, spoke up from the audience to say he felt that the requirement to comply within five years would place too great a burden on businesses.

But Councilman Bob Massa disagreed, asking Gordge, “What hardship would there be?”

“Perhaps there is concrete in the way,” Gordge answered.

“That’s where your Town Administrator comes in with some common sense,” Massa told Gordge. “You don’t want to water the ordinance down until everyone plants concrete and therefore does not have to comply with the ordinance.”

“The current code calls for compliance only when the property is developed or expanded by a certain amount,” Gordge said, “not at a point in time when you have to comply with all the requirements of the ordinance regardless of the situation. Rather than get into the same situation we got into with the signs, it should be addressed now. It’s just an unnecessary burden on businesses to comply with the ordinance, in my opinion.”

“No offense,” Massa said, “but we created the sign problem, not the businesses. The ordinance was clear – businesses had seven years to come into compliance and then we (Council) started to debate whether we should allow them to come into compliance.

“We caused the problem,” Massa said. “If you look at our Master Plan, it was based on our being green, not concrete. The Administrator has the discretion to make adjustments when certain landscape requirements are not possible. The businesses have five years. It’s not like they have to comply tomorrow.”

Councilman Bob Mangone agreed.

“The businesses in town helped write the new sign ordinance and then we (Council) started debating whether or not to enforce it. I certainly don’t want to pose a hardship on anyone, but perhaps if a business has a lot of concrete, there is a way to substitute some form of greenery that would at least add to the ambience,” Mangone said. “There are some places on Blythewood Road that could stand a few hedges. I don’t know that we want to completely beg off the question and not require compliance with the ordinance.”

Notice of Election

In other business, Council authorized a Notice of 2015 Election for Mayor and Three Members of Town Council to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3, at Blythewood Park, 126 Boney Road in Blythewood. The election will be for mayor, two council members for terms ending in 2019 and one council member to fill the unexpired term of Robert Massa whose term ends in November 2017. Massa has resigned his seat effective the end of June.

Candidates can file for office from Aug. 5 – Sept. 2.

Traffic Impact Study

Council passed first reading on a zoning amendment that requires a traffic impact study to be done for any proposed subdivision development of 90 or more dwelling units and for group developments of 150 or more dwelling units.

New Industry Heights

Council voted to approve first reading of an amendment to change the height limit to 100 feet in all industrial zoned districts in the Town. For all structures in excess of 40 feet in height, an additional 6 feet of setback from a residential zoning district boundary is required for each additional foot in structure height.

“In other words,” Parker said, “if the structure will be 100 feet in height, then it will have to be set back an additional 360 feet from the residential boundary.”

The 100-foot height has already been approved for the Light Industrial 2 and the Light Industrial Research Park Districts.

 

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