Chapel Hill passes tree canopy rules

Staff writerDecember 7, 2010 

— Many Chapel Hill trees will have new protection come spring.

The Town Council voted 6-1 Monday night to require “tree canopy” standards for certain properties within town limits. The new rules will take effect March 1, 2011.

The new ordinance will measure trees by their canopy, rather than by the diameter of their trunks. Canopy standards will be enforced according to their land use.

Single-family lots, two family properties, and smaller, non-residential projects are exempt.

A tree's canopy would be measured in square feet by its "drip zones," or area under the tree's outermost branches.

Institutional and mixed-use developments will require a 40 percent tree canopy. Commercial and multi-family residential properties will require a 30 percent canopy.

Previous town rules regulated tree removal on projects larger than 5,000 square feet. There was no standard for how much tree canopy must be retained or re-established.

A revised ordinance was brought to council in September, but a vote was delayed after residents and council members questioned regulations for single-family lots, among other recommendations.

Council members Laurin Easthom and Gene Pease were absent at Mondays's meeting. Council Member Matt Czajkowski cast the lone vote against the ordinance saying he saw little public support for it.

One resident, Lynne Kane, spoke out against the new changes at the meeting, saying the new ordinance didn't take personal property rights into consideration. Developers have also opposed the new rules at past meetings, saying the restrictions will hinder economic development in the town.

But council member Sally Greene said there has been significant public demand for stricter tree protections.

“There are a lot of people in the community [that] are disappointed there aren’t more protection[s],” she said. “I accept that there’s not that strong of support for residential regulation …But there is a lot of support for doing something now to ensure that we have in the future some sort of tree canopy that we have now.”

After its revisions, Chapel Hill’s new ordinance reaches a fair middle ground, said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

“This may not reflect everything that some folks want in a tree ordinance, “ he said to town staff. “But I think you’ve done a good job of finding a middle place and giving us an opportunity to decide if this is everything we want or more than we want.”

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