Committee Recommends Tree Canopy Bill With Changes

An example of infill residential development that has led to the loss of tree canopy, via MCDEPA Montgomery County Council Committee on Monday recommended a slightly altered Tree Canopy Conservation bill after months of back-and-forth between the county, conservationists and home builders.

The measure the Transportation & Environment Committee unanimously agreed to includes some changes from the bill the Department of Environmental Protection first proposed last year. It’s meant to prevent the loss of tree canopy due to “mansionization,” the recent trend of tear-down home projects that have meant bigger homes on small neighborhood lots — especially in older Bethesda neighborhoods.

The original proposal would have forced property owners or home builders in small lots to pay a fee per square foot of lost canopy into a fund that Montgomery County would then use to plant new trees nearby or off-site.

After a number of meetings with members of the building industry, which quickly came out against the proposal, the measure recommended on Monday would allow credit for builders who plant new trees on-site or who demonstrate they avoided causing damage to trees or tree roots.

Director of Environmental Protection Bob Hoyt said the new proposal was a compromise, as county officials pulled “the best” aspects from the original bill and from an alternative proposed by a group of small builders called Renewing Montgomery.

If approved, all projects that require a sediment control permit (all tear-down home projects apply) would still be subject to a fee for lost canopy that would go into a county tree planting fund.

The fees proposed range from 25 cents per square foot for 0-2,000 square feet of canopy disturbance to $1.35 per square foot for 70,000 square feet or more of tree canopy disturbance.

But builders would be able to apply for credit that would cut into that fee by submitting a plan showing the area in which they plan to plant new trees. If those trees have a minimum of 400 square feet to grow, the builder will get a credit.

Stan Edwards, DEP’s point person on the bill, said the county and builders remained apart on how many new trees would have to be planted on-site to make up for the lost of mature tree canopy. Edwards predicted only a third of new trees would reach mature status, meaning they grow for 25 or more years. Renewing Montgomery projected 85 percent of new trees would reach mature status.

“We do not believe that every tree planted will grow to maturity. It just does not happen,” Edwards said on Monday. “I think that’s unreasonable to expect.”

Renewing Montgomery also wanted the fee to be determined by the size of the lot. DEP wanted the trigger to remain the amount of canopy damage

Committee Chair Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said he expects the Tree Canopy Preservation bill to go before the full Council in a few weeks.

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