County Executive Isiah Leggett today said his controversial tree canopy bill is a fair compromise between conservationists and builders who do tear-down home projects in Bethesda’s older neighborhoods.
Leggett’s Tree Canopy Conservation bill, before the County Council now, would require builders or land owners in small lots to pay a fee for lost canopy during large home addition or home rebuilding projects. The county’s Department of Environmental Protection has used overhead imagery of Bethesda neighborhoods where “mansionization” is common to show the loss of tree canopy over the last decade.
The fees would go into a county-operated tree replacement fund.
“This bill strikes what I consider to be a balance between those who want more stringent regulations to protect trees and those who feel that additional protection is a burden,” Leggett said. “It’s a good balance in my opinion.”
The building industry, at least initially, did not agree. On Friday, Leggett joined Caren Madsen and Arlene Bruhn from Conservation Montgomery to talk up the bill and plant a tree near the Bethesda Library to celebrate Arbor Day.
“Not only are we having what we call mansionization, in addition to all the sediment challenges we have, we lose the trees,” Leggett said. “You simply can not easily replace those trees that are lost. We must act now to protect and restore the valuable community resources that we believe are in this bill.”
The request for the new plan, which would allow Congressional to buy 2.82 acres-worth of off-site plantings, came almost a month after the Planning Department issued a violation to the club for not abiding by a 2007 Forest Conservation Plan.
Planning staff and Congressional attorney Jody Kline said the parties were in communication about the coming violation, issued last October, and agreed that a new plan was necessary.
Kline said “the Club has been working assiduously,” toward correcting the violation, which Kline said it looks at “as sort of the technical way of getting in front of [the Planning Board],” to amend the agreement.
Kline said the Club simply could not protect trees in some of the previously upon agreed areas, including a section of forest near the 18th and final green where a set of bleachers goes each year.
The Club did not plant promised trees in other areas after realizing the trees would be knocked down or damaged from spectator traffic. The Club first hosted the AT&T National in 2007, a PGA Tour event hosted by Tiger Woods. In 2010 and 2011, the Club took a break from that event to prepare for and then host the 2011 U.S. Open, a USGA event.
“Is there a reasonable chance of a higher level of actually achieving compliance,” Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier asked.
The Board approved the new Forest Conservation Plan unanimously.
“This is something that’s been on the Club’s front-burner for a long time,” Kline said. “But we’ve been working with the PGA to do it.”
The Club also plans to put up signs marking preservation areas, complete with Congressional’s logo.
This year’s AT&T National is June 24-June 30.
Flickr photo by Keith Allison
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will be in Bethesda tomorrow to help plant two trees in celebration of National Arbor Day and to encourage the County Council to pass his controversial tree canopy conservation bill.
The bill, which would require private property owners in small lots to pay a fee for lost canopy, is aimed at the many homeowners in older Bethesda neighborhoods who are taking down old homes and replacing them with supersized ones.
Leggett and the county’s Department of Environmental Protection argue this has led to significant loss of tree canopy that until now hasn’t been on the county’s radar because development was taking place at bigger lots. The bill proposes to take the fees and create a county-managed fund for planting new trees nearby.
In their presentation to the County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee earlier this year, Environmental Protection officials used overhead images of Bethesda neighborhoods to show the loss of tree canopy over the last decade.
The Transportation and Environment Committee is expected to make a final recommendation on the bill in June, after work is finished on the FY14 budget.
On Friday, Leggett will join Conservation Montgomery, which is in favor of the bill, to plant a yellowwood tree and dogwood tree at the Bethesda Library overlooking Caroline Freeland Park.
A press release says the Bethesda Garden Club and B-CC High School students will water the trees during the summer.
Congressional Country Club has not planted about three acres of promised reforestation area as a result of its annual PGA Tour golf tournament.
Now, in response to a violation issued last year by the Montgomery County Planning Department, the Club has proposed a new conservation plan that would allow it to meet requirements by paying into a county forest mitigation fund for offsite planting.
The proposed Forest Conservation Plan Amendment will go in front of the County Planning Board for approval on April 25. In it, Planning Department staff describes the history of the original 2007 agreement and the specifics of sites on the golf course where promised reforestation has not taken place.
Those areas include the part of the course near the intersection of River Road and Bradley Boulevard, used for trailer storage, parking and staging during the PGA Tour events and the U.S. Open in 2011.
There is also the large grandstand area near the 18th and final green. Planning staff says that bleacher platform was erected within a conservation easement and the area was in violation because it was not replanted and it was completely mowed.
Congressional has proposed to abandon that part of the original conservation plan.
Before the first-ever AT&T National Tournament at the Club in 2007, Planning and Club staff worked together to mitigate tree damage to areas that would need to be used for TV structures, concession tents and spectator viewing. According to the Planning Department report, Planning staff met with Club staff many times in 2010 and 2011 to go over the remaining planting requirements of the 2007 agreement.
On May 25, 2012, Planning staff completed a two-year inspection of all trees planted in late-fall 2009 and spring 2010 and found that not all areas in the original Forest Conservation Plan were planted. By October 2012, with the planting deadline passed, staff reported 3.12 acres were not planted within the one-year (or two-growing seasons) time limit.
The violation was issued on Oct. 17. On Nov. 15, Congressional submitted a proposal to change the Forest Conservation Plan that would leave 1.41 acres of those areas unplanted in exchange for the purchase of 2.82 acres of credit in a Park and Planning Commission-approved forest mitigation bank.
Planning staff is recommending the Board approve the new agreement.
The 2013 AT&T National is set for June 27-June 30, with events and practice rounds beginning earlier that week.
Flickr photo by Keith Allison
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
Our piece last week on the Tree Canopy Conservation bill before the County Council got strong reaction from one member of the building industry.
Robert Kaufman, director of government affairs for the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry, said the proposal wouldn’t actually protect tree canopy and would act as an unfair tax against property owners who disturb ground underneath a tree, even if that tree remains.
Many builders, including some who help Bethesda homeowners add additions or build bigger homes on infill lots, are against the proposal. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has pushed the bill with the main selling point that new development patterns — supersized homes on infill lots in older neighborhoods — require new tree legislation.
Kaufman said builders do support “setting reasonable canopy goals for home sites and allowing builders to meet these goals by saving or planting trees on-site.”
He pointed to similar measures from the government of Athens-Clarke County, Ga., as an example of a tree bill builders would support.
“We can agree that canopy is a reasonable quality of life issue and that we can find a way to replace or add canopy when we make improvements,” Kaufman wrote in an email. “If you look at the Athens/Clarke County tree bill in Georgia, they set reasonable canopy goals and publish a chart that lists the types of trees to plant and how many trees to plant in order to meet the long term canopy goals on each lot. Since we know that homebuyers like trees, builders are supportive of the idea that we can save or plant trees ON-SITE to meet reasonable goals. While making improvements, we also remove dangerous, unsightly and invasive trees and replace them with healthy, young trees appropriate for urban living.”
County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) chairs the Transportation & Environment Committee charged with working on the bill. In the last worksession on the issue on Feb. 25, Berliner asked Montgomery County Department of Environment staff to provide detailed comparisons to the tree legislation in Clarke County and neighboring Fairfax County.
Meanwhile, conservationists are promoting a petition in support of both the Tree Canopy Protection bill and a companion piece of legislation that would give the county control of regulating tree removal in right-of-ways. The petition has almost 950 supporters.
The Committee’s third worksession on the bill is scheduled for April 1.
As homeowners in Bethesda supersize old homes in narrow lots, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection says there must be a stricter system for protecting and replacing tree canopy lost in the process.
County Executive Isiah Leggett last year introduced a Tree Canopy Conservation bill that would force private property owners in small lots to pay a still-to-be-determined fee for lost canopy into a fund that Montgomery would then use to plant new trees.
Now, the County Council is wrangling with both sides to find a compromise.
Members of the building industry say the county shouldn’t legislate tree protection on private property, that they already avoid removing trees because of associated costs and that existing stormwater management requirements make protecting trees extremely difficult.
Some conservationists say the bill doesn’t go far enough, that replacing mature trees with new ones still takes away from the canopy, which everybody agrees is important for environmental and economic reasons.
The Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee has held a public hearing and two worksessions on the legislation and a corresponding bill that would give the county more control over tree removal in right-of-ways.
Bethesda County Councilman Roger Berliner (D) told residents he’s undecided on Chevy Chase Lake development, he’ll pursue whatever option necessary to ensure land for a new elementary school in White Flint and he’s pessimistic about preventing Pepco from approval for a significant rate hike later this year.
In a hour-and-a-half town hall-style meeting on Wednesday in Bethesda, Berliner also discussed two pieces of tree protection legislation before the Council, the county’s zoning ordinance rewrite and hinted at taking on County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommendation to delay funding for the Bethesda Metro South Entrance.
The first and most substantial discussion focused on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which last week was sent to the County Council for final review. The Council will hold its public hearing on the Plan on March 5. It would allow for significant mixed-use development around a prospective Purple Line light rail station on Connecticut Avenue.
All those who spoke about the plan were residents against the height and density recommendations of the Planning Board, which in some cases approved taller buildings than recommended by Planning Department Staff.
“They wholesale ignored and threw out Staff density recommendations,” said one resident who attended the Planning Board worksession in question. “It’s particularly insulting for the community members who were basically ignored. …Quite frankly, it’s a little suspicious.”
Officials in charge of a Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk project promised less of an environmental impact on Chevy Chase’s “Green Mile” than first feared during a public meeting on Monday.
But in a packed room of the Somerset Town Hall, the long controversial issue seemed as divisive as ever. The State Highway Administration wants to build a 0.7-mile, $1.2 million sidewalk to connect bus stops on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Grafton Street and Bradley Lane.
“Why do we need this at all? We feel we are being railroaded,” said one resident against the sidewalk proposal. “I have trouble understanding where this demand is coming from. Clearly there is a very strong demand from people that are bikers.”
Cyclists were just one group involved in the discussion, which at times devolved into heated arguments between a crowd of about 60 people split by a variety of interests.
A number of cyclists from neighborhoods just south of Chevy Chase spoke up in favor of the sidewalk. They argued it would allow less experienced riders a way to get from Friendship Heights to downtown Bethesda without risking safety on the busy road, more important with the coming introduction of Capital Bikeshare.
Some Chevy Chase residents said they were opposed to the sidewalk because they can’t envision anybody using it, especially without the promise of additional crosswalks that would encourage east-to-west movement across Wisconsin Avenue.
There were plenty of Chevy Chase residents who said the sidewalk was necessary to connect the four bus stops in the stretch.
“I think it is very sad and unfortunately laughable the square chunk of concrete that northbound riders are faced with when they get off the bus,” said one resident in favor of the sidewalk.
“I think people are living in the past,” another said. “How could you not have sidewalks on both sides of Wisconsin Avenue?”
An environmental group and cycling organization are at odds over the project, which would mean the removal of 53 trees along a three-quarter-mile stretch of the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Grafton Street and Bradley Lane. The tree removal would allow for an eight-foot shared-use sidewalk.
The Little Falls Watershed Alliance says County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) will attend tonight’s meeting (7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 4511 Cumberland Ave.). The group is against the proposed $1.5 million sidewalk because it says the removal of the 53 trees will hurt the already fragile watershed.
Berliner has urged the SHA to take measures to protect the trees, which would not be replaced on the same strip because the curb is not big enough according to SHA regulations. The LFWA has proposed an alternative plan for new bus pads and a smaller section of sidewalk.
Now, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is urging area cyclists to rally in support of the sidewalk, which would be federally funded:
While too narrow to be considered a shared-use path, the sidewalk would provide a safe place for pedestrians to access the three bus stops on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue. In addition, bicyclists who do not feel comfortable riding on the road could carefully use the sidewalk. With Capital Bikeshare expanding in both Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, a safe place to ride along Wisconsin Ave. is especially important.
The sidewalk would connect Friendship Heights and Bethesda, two major pedestrian areas. In September, the SHA announced it would be removing five large, decaying elm trees along the Green Mile.
Photo via State Highway Administration
Debris (up to 500 pounds) that is longer than four feet in length and wider than four inches in diameter can be recycled at the county’s Shady Grove Processing Facility in Derwood, which is open until 5 p.m. today.
For curbside recycling, Montgomery County wants residents to bag branches in bundles less than 45 pounds and less than 30 inches in diameter.
For tree debris in the public right-of-way, call 311. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is collecting trees and branches that have fallen on roads or sidewalks. While most of the major downed trees were discovered during the storm last night, police were still reporting new instances of downed branches today.
In another sign of how Bethesda escaped significant damage from Sandy, the Town of Chevy Chase today reported just one downed tree on public land. That tree did not cause any power outages, according to a Town email alert.
The Capital Crescent Trail, at least the portion from Bethesda to the D.C. line, was clear of any prominent obstructions on Tuesday.
When it comes to trees, the Town of Chevy Chase is hearing it from both sides.
There are people who feel the Town’s tree protection ordinance isn’t enough to protect its lush tree canopy. Others say the ordinance is too strict, that it discourages the removal or pruning of trees that pose danger in storms such as last June’s derecho.
To make clear the Town’s policies, Town manager Todd Hoffman and arborist Dr. Tolbert Feather on Wednesday presented stats and trends on tree loss and replacement on public right-of-way and private property.
Comments from the roughly 25 residents at the meeting focused mostly on Pepco tree pruning practices around electrical wires.
One said she was much more concerned with three- or four-day power outages and falling trees during storms than protecting a tree canopy that has actually grown, at least on public space, in the Town since 2009.
Mayor Pat Burda said the Town Council will hold a worksession in November or December around input from the meeting.
From 2009 into 2012, the Town removed 139 rotting or damaged large trees from right-of-way and other public spaces and planted 233 trees to replace those. The average annual budget for planting was around $25,000, for maintenance was $170,000 and for additional services was $23,000.
Any private homeowner who wishes to remove a tree more than 24 inches in circumference must apply for a tree removal permit. Since July 2009, the Town received 232 removal applications, which can include multiple trees on the same property.
It approved all but 25. Of those 25, 16 were appealed to a review board and 14 were approved for removal upon review. One was denied. The other appeal was withdrawn.
Hoffman also reported that Feather has conducted 234 free consultations with private homeowners since 2009 as part of a Town program that lets residents know if they have problematic trees on their property.
In the June derecho, the Town lost 14 large canopy trees, five of which were on private property. Five trees, four of them from the public right-of-way, fell on homes in the storm.
Six years since the Town of Chevy Chase adopted an ordinance to regulate tree removal and some instances of tree trimming, the town will review its procedures in the wake of last summer’s derecho storm.
That storm caused significant tree damage across the region, but especially in Chevy Chase and parts of Bethesda. It was one of the hardest hit areas according to a County Office of Emergency Management official who made a presentation about the department’s response last week at a citizens advisory board meeting.
Town of Chevy Chase Town Manager Todd Hoffman said that damage, which by one estimate took almost a month to clear, spurred enough resident input to merit a Town meeting on the ordinance on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a very factual presentation. What we do and how the ordinance has been working,” Hoffman said. “Beyond comments based on the derecho, we haven’t gotten any specific concerns outside of that in relation to this meeting.”
The ordinance requires canopy trees (defined as a tree with a trunk at least 24 inches in circumference at four-and-a-half feet above the ground) to go through a strict review process before removal.
Other communities with tree ordinances have faced issues with limbs from weak or rotting trees falling on homes and cars during powerful storms — trees some say should have been removed or at least trimmed back despite hopes to maintain a tree canopy.
The Town of Chevy Chase is recognized as a member of Tree City USA.
The public hearing on the Town’s tree ordinance will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane.) Hoffman expects the Town Council to take public comments to a worksession in which the ordinance might be adjusted.
The Town’s Climate and Environmental Committee is developing initiatives to “improve the health and safety of our tree canopy,” according to a Town email alert today.
The Town Office is asking residents who used arborists and tree companies to describe their experience, what company they used, what work they did, costs, how many trips it took to complete the work and other questions relating to clean-up.
The Town also wants to hear about clearing trees and debris. It took officials in Montgomery County almost a month to clear debris from all roadways because of the power of the storm and widespread power outages in the days after.
Residents can respond to the Town Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flickr photo by thisisbossi
Crews will close a lane along northbound Wisconsin Avenue (MD 355) between Norwood Drive and Cumberland Avenue between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The work should be complete no later than than Friday, Sept. 7, according to the SHA press release:
SHA’s recent evaluation of the trees resulted in this decision to remove them. Many have large branches hanging over the roadway close to traffic and have been struck numerous times by vehicles, creating a public safety risk for motorists and pedestrians. In addition to presenting a safety hazard, the evaluation revealed extensive damage to the elms caused by vehicle crashes and marked their close proximity to power lines.
The SHA is in the design phase of a .7-mile sidewalk through Chevy Chase’s “Green Mile,” a tree-lined section of Wisconsin Avenue from Grafton Street to Bradley Lane, that could mean the loss of 53 trees, including the five involved in this week’s project.