County commission will look at ‘incentives’ for developers to stop clear cutting


County commissioners said they would consider tree protection ordinance after half a dozen members of the Charter Review Committee appeared at last week’s meeting to implore them to look at the issue.

The CRC’s report, approved by county commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2, initially had five items – two of which, including tree protection, were pre-empted by state law prohibiting planning regulations being approved by referendum. (The county commission could pass such an ordinance, but such regulations could not be enacted by referendum.)
Even knowing the tree protection issue would be pre-empted, CRC members said the matter was important enough to leave in their report to draw attention of county commissioners.
Basically, the initial proposal by CRC listed species of native trees, such as live oaks, that at a certain size would be protected from being cut by developers – unless there was no other way to adjust the footprint of a building.
The issue, as several members of the CRC told commissioners, is developers clearcutting property instead of leaving large native trees.
Initially, County Commissioner Chuck Hess expressed his support for tree protections, and asked other commissioners if they had the appetite for it. Commissioners Ralph Thomas and Fred Nichols both answered “No.”
Thomas explained that he was opposed to a blanket prohibition on cutting and suggested he would consider something that would incentivize saving large native trees.
Hess made a motion to have Planning Director Somer Pell draft an ordinance to do that – incentivize saving trees – and it was seconded by County Commissioner Mike Kemp and passed unanimously.
Kemp said he supported incentives, adding that “I don’t want a situtation where somebody wants to cut down a tree (on their property) that’s 8 to 10 inches (in diameter) and they have to go get a permit.”
Several members of the CRC appeared at the hearing, including Lynn Artz, a former county commissioner herself, who pushed the tree protection issue at Charter Review. She said the issue was of “deep concern to many people” – especially new developments that were being clearcut.
David Damon, who also served on the CRC, expressed his frustration with state preemption preventing citizens from addressing local concerns. He expressed his opposition to clearcutting of property and said it should be a priority to “preserve some of these old trees.”
Andrew Riddle, who served on CRC and is currently chair of the Planning Commission, was one of only two votes against the tree protection at charter review. His view at the time was that it was not an appropriate issue for the charter, but said he had changed his view insofar as clearcutting is increasingly becoming an issue.
Two other CRC members spoke on the issue – CRC Chair Chris Russell and member Bret Hammond. CRC member Walt Dickson was also at the meeting but did not speak.
Hess made a motion to pursue an ordinance to protect native trees, it was seconded by Kemp and unanimously approved in a 5-0 vote.