Wednesday, August 06, 2008

'City of trees' fires arborist

Nope, not Charlotte. Atlanta. The New York Times tells us Atlanta's "defender of trees" got the ax. Many people speculate it's because he's more vigorous about citing developers for tree-cutting infractions than the other people in his office.

This got my attention: "Builders must pay hundreds of dollars for every tree they uproot, even with the city’s permission. ... The penalty for violators is far heftier: One developer was recently fined $24,000 for illegal tree clearance, and Tyler Perry, the movie actor and director, was penalized $177,000 for unauthorized deforestation on his property."

Atlanta's fired arborist said he had issued 70 citations for illegal tree removal this year, while the five other arborists in his division issued a total of 29 citations. This does not sound like Charlotte, does it?

I called Laura Brewer, Charlotte's senior urban forestry specialist. Charlotte's tree ordinance doesn't make builders pay if they uproot trees except for city-owned trees in city right-of-way. Even then, unless it's a big tree they're usually allowed to plant a replacement tree as compensation. That's one reason for the slow loss in the city's tree canopy.

As far as private development, Charlotte's ordinance protects only a few of the trees on private development. On single-family developments a 10 percent tree save is required, although a developer can plant new trees instead of saving existing ones. On commercial development, only the trees in the setback must be saved, if they're 8 inches or larger in diameter.

I asked Brewer if the city had fined any tree ordinance violators in the past year. "I don't believe we have." The city would rather have trees than fines, she said: "Usually, what we've done in the past is require mitigation."

She said a new ordinance is being proposed that would require commercial developers to save 15 percent of the trees on site, rather than those in the setback.

A study in 2003 by American Forests found the total acreage of trees in Charlotte fell almost in half between 1984 and 2003, from 63,000 to 33,000.


whitehawkd said...

Not a surprise that Charlotte/Mecklenburg is not fining developers, etc.

It seems that the real estate and development industry, the banks, and the special interests at the chamber of commerce pretty well run this county/city. Mecklenburg would do well to hire the Atlanta arborist and let him come here and show our local tree persons how to "do their jobs."

Eric said...

Driving down the west side of I-485 near the airport, the clear cutting makes me sick. Soil erosion, loss of animal habitat.

The reality is that clear-cutting is cheap for developers. It's easier for them to clear natural land and re-plant than it would be to build around old growth. The downside is that it's not an environmentally sustainable practice.

What about offering developers incentives for keeping old growth? Penalties help too, but a two-fold approach might be more effective.

Anonymous said...

There ought to be a stiff fine for denuding several acres of land, then letting it sit there for years and years on the premise you're waiting for financing or demand.

Two examples:

Lake DeeDee on the southeast corner of Gleneagles and Park Road.

Keith's Folly - the large hole in the ground next to the Barclay Downs Swim & Tennis Club (across Morrison from Symphony Park). A nice little forest filled in that acreage a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

dont forget the hole at park and gleneagles, that has been there for what seems like 15 years.

Anonymous said...

Lake DeeDee IS the hole at Park and Gleneagles that seems like it has been there 15 years. I named it for the developer...or would-be developer.

Of course in the drought it just dries up.

Anonymous said...

Since you mentioned Atlanta, again, Kenny Rogers(singer?) removed some un-authorized trees several years ago from a property he owned, but managed to pay off the right politico and kept it out of the news cycle. Wouldn't want to hurt CD sales now would he. Had to pay for that plastic landscaping on his face and his very young wifes chestorial accoutrements.