Raleigh to fight legislation limiting tree regulations

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2014 

Raleigh leaders are worried about proposed state legislation curbing cities’ power to regulate trees – rules they say help preserve the City of Oaks.

Last month, the N.C. General Assembly’s Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission reviewed a proposed bill that effectively bans municipalities from regulating trees on private property. Raleigh has a variety of tree ordinances that require developers to preserve or plant trees and mandate wooded buffer zones around new developments.

The Raleigh City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to lobby against the bill.

“We’d obviously have to change our slogan from the ‘City of Oaks,’” Councilman Thomas Crowder said.

“It’s definitely a big part of our definition,” said Mayor Nancy McFarlane. “People don’t come here for no reason at all, and a great part of it is how we look.” She said the bill would have a dramatic effect on Raleigh. The legislation would allow developers to clear-cut property without planting anything in return.

Crowder added that tree rules aren’t “just an aesthetic issue.” He and McFarlane pointed to the increased runoff problems caused by tree-free development as well as “the cooling effects we get from trees.

The commission reviewing the draft legislation consists of two Republican senators and two Republican representatives. All four represent rural counties.

It’s unclear whether the bill will get officially introduced when the legislature’s short session opens later this month. Sen. Andrew Brock, the Davie County Republican who expects to co-sponsor the bill, said the move was prompted by overreach of local ordinances that have drawn complaints from across the state.

“It’s the pebbles in your shoes that are getting businesses frustrated,” he said.

Brock said nursery owners have complained about city officials’ policing of how trees are planted. A business owner in Fayetteville, he said, was fined for not planting required trees.

He also cited Charlotte’s $4,700 fine of Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church in 2011 for improperly trimming eight crape myrtle trees on its property, although the city later relented. The issue, Brock said, is “whether cities have overstepped their bounds or can come around to something reasonable where cities are not fining churches $4,700 for trimming up their trees.” Brock said the purpose of the legislation is to draw attention to the issue, suggesting it could be modified.

Raleigh’s tree protection rules have been strengthened over the past decade. Former Mayor Charles Meeker made the issue a top priority, blasting what he described as clearcutting in newer neighborhoods when he race for office in 2001. Raleigh now requires that 10 percent of trees be preserved on sites slated for development.

“We spent over a year developing the regulations, and we heard very little negative comment about them,” Meeker said.

Last year’s legislative session featured multiple bills that drew fire from mayors. One bill sought to limit local governments’ ability to set design standards for residential housing. Another aimed to curb cities’ use of privilege license taxes on business.

Charlotte Observer reporter Bruce Henderson contributed to this report.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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