|Forest of tree regulations confusing
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
City staff feels that the city's regulations and means of enforcement regarding the planting and cutting of trees on both private and public property need to be revised.
Some developers call the proposed changes a solution in search of a problem that will interfere with housing production to little purpose.
Two city commissioners think some changes should be made - but not at any cost.
The Portland Planning and Urban Forestry commissions, in joint session, have been reviewing the recommendations of the Citywide Tree Policy and Regulatory Improvement Project. This effort reviewed current regulations regarding trees and found that they were scattered among several bureaus; that they were confusing, contradictory and contained gaps; and that their enforcement was less than desirable. They called for changes that included the following:
o A single point of contact for the public regarding trees in public rights of way, private property and public property.
o A Community Tree Manual covering all tree issues.
o A 24-hour hotline to record violations.
o A permit requirement for the cutting of any tree 20 inches in diameter or larger as part of a development project, 12 inches in diameter in any other situation.
o Tree preservation plans as part of most land-use processes, developed early in the process.
Project manager Roberta Jortner told the commissions, This would produce some streamlining of processes, but also a substantial increase in investment. Specifically, taken together, the project's recommendations would require $500,000 in one-time costs to implement, and another $1.5 million in ongoing expenses.
A group of developers led by Jeff Fish objected that the proposals would make it difficult to impossible to develop small lots, and add significantly to the cost and affordability of housing development. Fish, in particular, argued in oral and written testimony that problems were exaggerated. He noted that there were only 14 complaints last year of illegal tree cutting and that in some cases owners had simply failed to obtain permits for what would otherwise be legal. More than 100 people have given input to the process, but Fish argued that this is a tiny proportion of the city's population, and infers that the majority are fine with things as they are.
The bottom line is that there is not the wanton destruction of trees in Portland as some would claim, that current policies work, and that the new tree policy is too large and complex for the Bureau of Development Services to manage, he wrote. Better if we spend nearly $2 million to purchase trees, and let the general public add more trees to their yard if they desire. In response to a question, he said trees do provide value to properties, but some perspective is needed. Laurelhurst is not like Lents, he said.
Others disagreed. Hazelwood activist Linda Robinson told the commissions, I definitely would not agree that this is a solution in search of a problem; it's been a problem in east Portland for some time. There's confusion and gaps. I'm pleased to see the city taking the next step on green infrastructure. It's a complex problem that requires a complex solution. In fact in some ways she felt it didn't go far enough - tree preservation plans would expire after 10 years, and developers can take their time getting started, she said. We need enforcement, to keep track of who the culprits are, she said. We need outreach and education.
Bob Sallinger of the Portland Audubon Society and Scott Fogarty of Friends of Trees soundly rejected Fish's advice to simply plant more trees, saying that preserving existing large trees is a major challenge. Sallinger thought the proposals did not go far enough in some ways, and said that with regard to preserving large trees, Property owners have an obligation that comes with the property. Along with several others, he thought the 14 recorded cases of illegal cutting didn't fully reflect the problem. He said he would prefer to see the regulation address cutting of trees as small as six inches in diameter.
Fogarty complained that under the current system, Too often large trees are replaced by smaller, columnar trees. Big old trees make up a great percentage of our canopy cover. If cutting is controlled better, One hundred years from now Lents will realize what Laurelhurst recognizes today, he said.
Master arborist Jim Wentworth-Plato agreed, saying that trees are often improperly pruned by people cutting for beer money, leaving a tree that is either dead or too badly damaged to save.
In later discussions, Kimberly Tallant of the Bureau of Development Services told the commissions that currently tree preservation plans are only required with land division processes. Even then, she said, staff depends on developers' assessments, is only concerned with the preservation or mitigation of a total diameter of trees rather than the size and quality of specific trees, and plans are not recorded with deeds and are not passed along to buyers.
The current proposal would require preservation plans for conditional uses, code modifications and design review, adding about 70 land-use cases a year to the city's workload. Bureau of Development Services Land Use Review Supervisor Rebecca Esau criticized this approach. The city has already mapped its most significant environmental resources through environmental zones placed on properties. It seems a little out of whack to have more regulations for new areas than we have for the E-zones, she said. In terms of tree preservation, There's not enough bang for the buck, she continued.
Commission members seemed to agree that cost-effectiveness of actions is important. Planning commission chair Don Hanson said he would like to exempt single-family lots from the proposed regulations. Commission member Chris Smith proposed a system of incentives as opposed to prescriptive standards, and to make sure that preservation is always the cheapest option.
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