Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tree ordinance proposal raises alarms around N.C.

Photo: Nancy Pierce
Charlotte likes to boast of its tree canopy, so a proposal at the state level to gut N.C. cities' tree ordinances has gotten Charlotte City Council's attention. At the council' Environment Committee meeting on Wednesday, after a briefing about the measure, the committee referred the issue to another committee to devise a lobbying strategy with N.C. legislators. Here's the article I wrote yesterday after the meeting.

But if you'd like to burrow a bit deeper into the issue, here are links to news coverage from around the state:
 It's not entirely clear how the proposal emerged late in April from a state study panel, the Agriculture and Forestry Services Study Commission, its members appointed by the legislature and the governor.

But at one March meeting, the commission heard from an Iredell County nurseryman upset over municipal regulations in some cities over who pays for trees that get planted and aren't acceptable to local government officials. And some state legislators, as well as developer lobbying groups, have said for years that some cities over-reach in their ordinances affecting private property.

Here's a link to the agenda materials for the study commission's March 28 meeting, with a copy of a
presentation from John Allen of Shiloh Nursery in Iredell County. Allen's presentation shows a variety of news clips about an incident in 2011 in which the city of Charlotte fined Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church after a church member severely pruned crape myrtle trees (horticulturists call this kind of pruning "crape murder") on church property but which apparently had been planted because of a requirement in the city's ordinances. After a national outcry city officials dropped the fine, and said they were working with the church to educate members about pruning techniques that would not harm the trees.

Meanwhile, in Greensboro, civic discontent continues over what many believe to be extreme tree-trimming practices by Duke Energy. Last week a confrontation between a local couple and tree-trimmers led to police and an assistant city manager being called to the scene, and Mayor Nancy Vaughan getting involved. Here's the report in Triad City Beat. Residents there have been so angry for so many years that last year the Greensboro City Council created a new tree ordinance aimed at preventing some of the more severe tree trimming.

Over the years utility tree-trimming has also infuriated residents in Charlotte neighborhoods. Some years back, when I was at the Charlotte Observer, I got a surprise phone call from then-Planning Director Martin Cramton, as angry as I had ever heard him, complaining of a contractor for Duke Energy who showed up in his back yard intending to, from what Cramton described, essentially clear-cut a part of the yard. Cramton, phoned by his wife, had rushed home and got the tree-cutting delayed for a time. But -- maybe because Duke is headquartered in Charlotte, and then-Mayor Pat McCrory was an employee, or maybe because of how often fallen limbs disrupt power here -- the Charlotte City Council never seriously discussed an anti-tree-trimming ordinance. The Planning Commission discussed possible ways to get more power lines buried. Those talks went nowhere, either.