Council hears first reading of ordinance to protect city trees

The giant sycamore at Quarry Park could be one of the first trees nominated to be protected under the proposed tree ordinance. Photo: Bill Emory The giant sycamore at Quarry Park could be one of the first trees nominated to be protected under the proposed tree ordinance. Photo: Bill Emory

They’re the city’s oldest citizens. Within their thick bark and internal rings that map the years, the city’s heritage trees carry a record of history. Now a city board is leading the charge to have special trees in the community protected forever to allow future generations to enjoy them as well.

Bitsy Waters, president of the city’s Tree Commission, presented the first reading of the Tree Ordinance to City Council on October 7. The ordinance calls for protection of heritage, memorial, specimen and specific street trees that would be nominated by the public.

“The Tree Commission sees this as an important opportunity to recognize and protect some of the most important trees in our community,” Waters told Council.

The ordinance stemmed from a year-long study after the Tree Commission was tasked with preserving the city’s tree canopy in 2009. It was decided in 2012 to target heritage and special trees as a priority, and to develop an ordinance that would create the framework for Council to protect and recognize trees of historic or cultural value. The commission worked with city staff and came up with the first draft of the ordinance, which would put certain trees under a protection that would require Council’s permission to remove in the future.

Councilor Dede Smith welcomed the proposed ordinance.

“It could be a great source of education,” Smith said. “Could you imagine getting people and kids going out and finding their favorite tree?”

While there is not yet any criteria for the trees to receive nominations, Waters said she has a few in mind already.

“I suspect some strong candidates might be the two trees highlighted on the past two Arbor Days: a large white oak in Forest Hills Park and a large sycamore in Quarry Park,” she said. Other notable trees Waters suggests are an American linden tree in Lee Park and a post Oak in Maplewood Cemetery.

Mayor Satyendra Singh Huja expressed concerns about the need to remove protected trees in emergency situations, and asked if there was a way to clarify the ordinance to account for unforeseen events like a sewage blockage or severe weather damage.

Waters told Council there would certainly be a clause for the removal or destruction of protected trees should there be a need or threat to public safety and welfare, or in the case of severe hardship to the property owner should the tree be on private land.

Council also wondered if arborists should be consulted when it comes to deciding what trees to protect. Waters agreed that the decisions should not be treated lightly.

“We are talking about very, very special trees, so we want to be extremely careful when someone renders a judgment,” she told Council.

Waters said she was buoyed by the support received from Council, and the commission will take its suggestions into consideration to strengthen the ordinance before it’s back on the agenda for a final vote.

The ordinance will see three readings, with the next one scheduled for November 4 at Council chambers at 7pm. Should the ordinance pass, Waters said the next step for the commission would be to develop the criteria for the trees to be nominated.—Annalee Grant

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