Cary News

Morrisville reviews rules for trees

Town leaders are rethinking rules for developers who cut down trees to build new homes and other projects.

Morrisville passed its first set of development rules last year, but some people were unhappy with the section relating to trees.

The Morrisville Chamber of Commerce said the town’s previous rules were too burdensome for developers. It called for less-strict rules on preserving old, large trees and suggested the town require more canopy trees be left in place.

“Maintaining adequate tree cover and preserving older trees is important for quality of life in a community and can often increase the market value of the developed property,” the chamber wrote.

Chad Meadows, a consultant hired by the town to rewrite tree rules for developers, said the new proposed rules are “intended to slow the loss of tree canopy as the town develops.”

Meadows met with developers and Morrisville planning officials, and he said he thinks his recommendations will satisfy everyone.

“Morrisville’s regulations are consistent with national best practices,” he said.

“And we’ve really built a nice consensus with everyone involved.”

Meadows, who served as chairman of Raleigh’s Appearance Commission when it revamped the city’s tree-related rules, said much of what he suggested for Morrisville followed those plans.

Councilman Steve Rao said he appreciated how Raleigh has left parks, trees and other natural areas in downtown even as it has developed rapidly. He hopes Morrisville can do the same.

“Maybe that’s something we could do in the area – the McCrimmon area – that isn’t developed yet,” Rao said.

Meadows gave the council a number of issues to consider, but the most debated was a tiered punishment system for developers who break the rules when clearing land.

Meadows suggested caps for punishment, with a smaller fine for developers who broke the rules but went through the process to get a tree protection plan.

Council members Vicki Scroggins-Johnson and TJ Cawley said they might oppose a cap, since developers could use that information to determine if they might make more money by clear-cutting a lot and paying the capped fine.

Meadows said that’s a fair concern.

“Those calculations are going to happen,” he said. “They happen all the time.”

Councilman Kris Gardner, though, said he liked the idea of a cap because it would allow the town to float a big, scary number to warn developers.

Other local municipalities are split on the issue. Apex, Chapel Hill and Durham have caps on fines, while Raleigh, Cary and Wake Forest don’t, Scroggins-Johnson said.

Mayor Mark Stohlman said he would be concerned about a potential lawsuit from a developer, whether there’s a cap in place or not.

But Meadows said it’s unlikely that Morrisville will ever run into an issue with a developer clearing large swaths of land that would call for a massive fine, since there aren’t many large pieces of undeveloped land.

“Anybody who’s going to develop a 5- to 10-acre site in Morrisville’s going to be smart enough to follow the rules,” he said.

The town will hold a public hearing on the matter Oct. 28 and is seeking public input. The council is expected to vote on the final changes Nov. 10.