The Denison Planning and Zoning Commission recently tabled a proposed tree preservation ordinance in order to give staff more time to address concerns regarding fees and potential loopholes. The commission previously discussed the proposed ordinance in January, and gave city staff the go ahead to draft the document.
City staff recently held a meeting with area developers to get feedback on the proposal, and to see what impacts it might have. Under the proposed ordinance, there would be protections for trees with a diameter of 18 inches or more.
“The folks that attended that meeting generally felt that 18 inches was appropriate for Denison and also generous compared to what other cities require,” interim Planning Manager Phyllis Jarrell said.
Following the discussion, officials said several items were clarified in the latest version of the proposed ordinance, including the addition of several undesirable species of trees that would not be protected in the ordinance and also clarification on clearing of brush.
Jarrell said the stakeholder also asked for clarification on some situations where a tree would otherwise be protected. As an example, Jarrell said there could be a situation where in order to preserve a larger tree, smaller trees that would otherwise be protected would need to be removed.
Jarrell noted stakeholders did bring up a potential loophole in the ordinance that could allow developers to clear cut large areas that would otherwise be protected.
Under the proposed ordinance, clear cutting would be prohibited from residential developers, however, residential property owners would be allowed to remove any trees from their land. Jarrell said it was brought up that a owner of a large piece of property could build a home there and then clear vast acres of land under the ordinance. This would then allow another developer to later move in and develop on the land unimpaired.
Discussions of limiting the amount of land a single property owner could clear raised some concerns from P&Z Chairman Charles Shearer, who said he initially thought the focus of the ordinance was on commercial development and left residential mostly untouched.
Shearer said he was also concerned about balancing being a developer friendly community with the need to protect resources in discussion on mitigation fees. Jarrell said city staff had researched what fees are appropriate for trees that are removed. From this research, Jarrell said city staff is proposing a fee of $125 per caliper inch of tree removed.
Shearer asked whether staff could reduce this cost, as he saw it as a barrier to development.
“We are making a transition and this is a place where there might be hard feelings toward that transition,” he said.
Following the discussions, members of the public spoke both in favor and against the measure.
“I feel any tree over 18 inches is a monument,” local developer Kevin Hempkins said, voicing his approval. “They have been here far longer than we have, and I think they should stay.”
In his time as a developer, David Vilbig said that the removing of some trees is a necessity and something that can’t be avoided.
“I absolutely love trees, and in my business of land development, I have killed thousands and thousands,” he said. “Unfortunately, that is the way it is.”
Vilbig cautioned the commission from putting too many restrictions on commercial developments as it might hinder growth. Vilbig said that owners of commercial property that can be developed often ask for a premium on land, and heavy restrictions will limit the amount of that land that could be used.
Members of the commission noted that the market regulated this to some degree in that at a certain price range, commercial developers simply would not be interested in the property.
Vilbig also noted that the usage of islands in a development to protect trees often fail resulting in the death of the plant.
The commission ultimately voted to table the item in order for staff to research possible solutions to these issues.