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Council Pushes Decision On Tree Canopy Bill To June

by Aaron Kraut — April 1, 2013 at 12:45 pm 0

A neighborhood on Fairfax Road in Bethesda after infill development, via MCDEP A neighborhood on Fairfax Road in Bethesda before infill development, via MCDEP

A decision on controversial legislation that would force homeowners to pay for tree canopy lost in new home or home addition projects won’t come until the summer.

Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) said at a meeting of the Transportation & Environment Committee this morning that final recommendations from the Committee to the full Council won’t come until after work on the FY 14 budget is finished.

Certain aspects of the Tree Canopy Protection bill, as proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), were made more clear in a memo used at this morning’s worksession.

Leggett and officials from the county’s Department of Environmental Protection proposed the measure as a counter to new home building on existing residential lots they say has meant the loss of much tree canopy in many of Bethesda’s older neighborhoods. In an earlier presentation, they showed satellite imagery of a neighborhood along Fairfax Road from 2002 and 2012 with noticeably less tree cover because of take-down home construction projects.

The bill would require property owners who get rid of tree canopy in any building process that requires a sediment control plan to pay into a county fund. That fund would work to replace that tree canopy nearby using a sliding scale of fees based on the amount of tree canopy lost.

The building industry quickly came out against the proposed fees and council members still want to see how the legislation compares with other jurisdictions.

“I’m pleased that we’ve closed the gaps with our various stakeholders and I think know we are within range of making this happen for our community,” Berliner said. “I’m hoping we are coming to the end.”

The Committee did agree to exempt Park and Planning property from the legislation, which the Department of Environmental Protection did not object.

Also on the table is a credit that would lower the cost of removing tree canopy if a property owner protected 25 percent of the tree canopy on-site or made “unusual” efforts to save trees. Builders opposed to the bill have argued that existing stormwater management laws make it difficult to protect trees even if the builder and property owner would prefer to.

Photos via Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection

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