Denison enacts tree preservation ordinance

Michael Hutchins, Herald Democrat
The Denison City Council has approved an ordinance aimed at protecting trees from clear-cutting and removal during development. (Drew Smith / Herald Democrat)

The Denison City Council recently approved a new ordinance aimed at protecting the city’s native trees from clear-cutting and widespread removal during what has become period of growth and development. In addition to banning clear-cutting of protected trees 18-inches in radius or larger for larger developments, the new tree preservation ordinance also sets ways to mitigate the damage from tree removal.

The motion to approve the new ordinance passed in a unanimous 6-0 vote with council member Kris Spiegel absent for the meeting.

“The original idea behind this ordinance was to prevent clear-cutting,” Planning and Zoning Manager Steven Doss said during the meeting. “This ordinance does that, but then it kind of has grown into something different. Through our conversations with the (Planning and Zoning) commission, there was a desire to go one step further and not only prevent clear-cutting but also to set standards. If we aren’t going to allow clear-cutting, what are we going to allow?”

City officials said the ordinance is primarily focused on larger developments, and does not apply to single-family residential lots of less than 10 acres.

As a part of the new requirements, Doss said the city set several requirements for development, including the need of a tree survey prior to development. Doss noted the cost will vary depending on the size of the lot and number of trees on it, but the city has made efforts to make the process as easy as possible.

“We have taken steps to reduce that cost as much as possible,” Doss said. “We have looked at several other cities and their tree surveys, so there are some areas where we have tried to reduce that cost.”

Among these steps, Doss said the city does not require the survey to be conducted by a certified arborist. Additionally, only protected trees from a set list must be surveyed, and only the impacted area must be surveyed.

The ordinance also provides a set of exceptions for the tree preservation. Among these exemptions are the footprint of the building itself and the standard yard footprint for most residential homes, and drainage, utility, fire lanes, and rights of way, among others.

For protected trees that must be removed, Doss said the ordinance created several mitigation methods that will allow developers to replace trees by the inch removed. As an example, if an 18-inch tree is removed, the damage can be mitigated by planting six, three-inch trees on the property or an area approved by the city. In lieu of replacing the tree, the developer can pay $150 per inch of tree removed to the city’s mitigation fund.

Council member Michael Baecht expressed some concern with this, noting the most that the city can fine per violation is $2,000. As such, Baecht argued that it might be easier for a developer to clear cut a property and then simply pay the fine.

Doss and City Attorney Julie Fort said the city could address this by making the fine per day until the restitution is resolved, or by treating each tree removed as a separate violation.

Among those who spoke regarding the new ordinance was developer Josh Holley, who has attended previous P&Z meetings regarding the ordinance. Holley commended staff and the commission for their efforts on the document, but said he still had concerns on how this would affect residential development.

“For residential developers, our idea is not to take out the large trees,” he said. “Those make us money.”

Additionally, Holley said construction in the region often requires grading the land to make it flat and suitable for construction. As such, some trees can be disrupted simply by land preparation, he said.

While the city currently has lots available for development, Holley said this will not always be the case, and eventually the city will need to pursue new subdivisions which will involve the clearing of land. With that in mind, Holley said he worried the ordinance could slow future development for the city.

Charles Shearer, representing the P&Z commission, said city staff and the commission took efforts to make the ordinance as non-intrusive as possible to developers. As an example, he said requirements for free mitigation and protection are far stronger than Denison’s ordinance in cities closer to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Despite this, he said development has not been slowed by these protections.