Thursday, September 12, 2013

2 Bills to Protect and Maintain Trees Approved

The Montgomery County Council on July 23 approved Bill 35-12 and Bill 41-12 that will protect roadside trees that are targeted to be trimmed, cut down or otherwise damaged, and will require owners of infill development properties to plant trees to bolster the County’s “tree canopy.”

Bill 35-12, which was approved unanimously, would require property owners who apply for a sediment control permit to plant trees even if they did not take down trees as part of their development. Sediment control permits are required if more than 5,000 square feet of property would be disturbed.

The bill is intended to help the canopy of shade trees that benefit the County in numerous ways. The bill would not apply to major developments, which have a different set of tree protection mitigation requirements.

Bill 35-12 requires property owners to plant three shade trees on a smaller lot and a greater number of trees on larger lots. Property owners have the option of paying into a fund for tree canopy conservation projects. The bill would require 400 square feet of open space per shade tree planted onsite.

The bill also would require the County’s Department of Environmental Protection to develop a comprehensive County-wide shade tree planting plan.

Bill 41-12, which was sponsored by Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich, was approved 7-2. Council President Nancy Navarro, Vice President Craig Rice and Councilmembers Berliner, Elrich, Phil Andrews, Valerie Ervin and Hans Riemer voted to support the bill. Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal were opposed.

Today is a big day for everyone who loves trees,” said Councilmember Berliner. “The Council has passed two major pieces of legislation that together protect trees in our County rights of way and preserve our tree canopy.  The bills reflect the extraordinary importance of trees to our residents, and the environmental, aesthetic and economic value they add to our quality of life in Montgomery County.”

Councilmember Elrich said: “I am proud that we passed two important environmental bills today.  I started work on the tree issue when I first was elected to the Council.  A bill to strengthen the Forest Conservation Law was my first major legislative initiative. This has been a long, six-year process and today it culminated in the passage of two bills: one to better maintain our road side trees and a second that fosters the protection and preservation of our tree canopy. I want to thank Councilmember Berliner who, working with the County Executive Leggett’s staff from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Permitting Services, worked hard and long to address the concerns of the various stakeholders and to shape bills that have a meaningful and positive outcome for the environment and for the residents of our County.”

Bill 41-12 primarily addresses County-owned trees that are in County right-of-ways. In many instances, trees that a property owner considers to be their trees actually are in County right-of-ways and Bill 41-12 would apply in those cases. In some cases, property owners want to cut down trees they believe to be unsafe, but when a property owner wants to cut down a roadside tree for other reasons, they would have to get a State tree care permit and a County right-of-way permit.

The bill authorizes the Department of Transportation to create a tree replacement fund to pay for needed roadside trees. An applicant who wants to cut down or trim a roadside tree will be required to get a County right-of-way permit from the Department of Permitting Services. That application will be required to include a site-specific tree protection plan.

The bill also requires a permittee who removes a roadside tree both to plant another tree, from a County recommended tree list, at or near the site, and also to pay into a tree replacement fund that will allow the County to plant two more trees in a right of way.

The effective date of both bills will be March 1, 2014.


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