Builders push back over tree clearing

BLYTHEWOOD – Talk about a frog strangler.

As rain pelted Blythewood on Monday, stormwater gushed into the streets and onto lots in the Cobblestone Park neighborhood in Blythewood, causing several lots to flood. It’s become a common theme after any heavy rainstorm, residents say.

Some homeowners think the root cause is traced to trees they say homebuilder D.R. Horton has been clearcutting in preparation for additional home construction.

“We really don’t want to see any more lots that are left with zero trees,” said Bob Zedosky, who addressed Blythewood Town Council during public input Monday evening. “What happens when you cut down all the trees is, if you’re brave enough, put on your hip boots and go on these lots,” Zedosky said. “Be prepared to sink in … with mud and stuff. It’ll be a nice, muddy mess.”

Zedosky and other Cobblestone Park residents want council members to reverse a section of the town’s landscape and tree preservation ordinance that, the town attorney says, can be interpreted to exempt developers from the town’s tree preservation requirements. Council members already have passed first reading on an ordinance repealing the exemption.

On Monday, Council voted 4-1 to postpone second reading until May 10, with Councilman Bryan Franklin dissenting.

Developers, however, oppose lifting the exemption. They sympathize with the flooding issues, which they characterize as temporary, but also insist lifting the exemption impedes their ability to do business.

Jesse Bray with D.R. Horton, the developer building out Cobblestone Park, said the proposed ordinance singles out the homebuilder.

“Developers and others will start looking elsewhere before doing business,” Bray said. “They want to know what the rules are from the start.”

Shane Alford with Essex Homes took things a step further, playing what he said were audio recordings of council members showing support for the original ordinance that allowed the exemptions.

Alford likened the effort to rescind the exemption to “finding soccer goals on the field at the end of a football game. We do not want rules to change halfway through the game. It may jeopardize the investment that we have,” he said. “It is our opinion that for the town to operate in a principled and thoughtful manner, repealing this covenant between it and the public would be wrong.”

Blythewood Mayor J. Michael Ross, who supported removing the exemption, responded with a sporting analogy of his own.

“So much water came from those lots because there’s no vegetation there. It ran into the drain on the opposite side of the street,” Ross said. “The fields have been torn up and there are no fields for anyone to watch any sport.”

Tensions have been simmering for years since the ordinance exempting developers was enacted in March 2015.

In 2017, two Cobblestone Park families sued D.R. Horton and the town, saying prior covenants were breached when D.R. Horton began subdividing lots near their homes for residential development.

The suit contends that their properties were supposed to border a nine-hole golf course or greenspace if a golf course wasn’t built.

The suit is still pending. On March 1, a circuit judge issued a temporary injunction barring development of the lots as the case proceeds.

As for the landscaping and buffer ordinance, council members said they plan to revisit the issue during the council’s budget work session May 10.  An executive session for the receipt of legal advice concerning the proposed ordinance is likely to be added to the agenda, Ross said.


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