This proposal has been under discussion for a number of years. It has just passed the City Planning Commission on Thursday Dec. 18th. It will go before the Dallas City Council in January or February. Please read thru the proposed changed recommended by the Urban Forest Advisory Committee (UFAC).
City of Dallas Urban Forest Advisory Committee
Tree Ordinance Recommendations
Updated, June 16, 2017
As background information, the Dallas City Council passed a resolution authorizing the creation of the City of Dallas Urban Forest Advisory Committee (UFAC) as a permanent and integral part of city government in 2005. According to the resolution, UFAC will “serve in an advisory capacity on matters of environmental stewardship, specifically concerning the care and planting of trees and the urban forest by advocating sound arboricultural and urban forest management practices. The committee will provide proactive leadership for the development of public policy and serve to educate citizens of Dallas regarding the numerous environmental, recreational, social and aesthetic benefits of a thriving forest. The committee will be authorized to make recommendations on plans, programs, or city codes which the council or Park and Recreation Board determine necessary or advisable for the care, conservation, planting, pruning, removal or disposition of trees citywide.” UFAC is comprised of experts and professionals from the green industry as well as interested citizens and various other professions which offer support and an education in areas pertinent to urban forestry efforts.
In 2007, meetings were called by the UFAC chair that included the chief arborist, prominent developers, builders and the construction industry with the basic premise that trees could be removed without replacement if folks would build more sustainable and responsible developments. A “matrix” was developed which assigns tree mitigation credits to developers based on how many trees they preserve, LEED certification of a building, water wise landscapes, or their efforts to become educated about tree preservation during construction.
In 2009, UFAC held three public meetings to request input from the public regarding recommended changes to the tree ordinance and UFAC`s current recommendations. Deliberations continued and in 2011, the Quality of Life Committee was briefed on UFAC recommendations and a respectful request was made to move the issue forward.
In February of 2015, the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) began deliberations. UFAC is very appreciative of the hard work by all those involved for the two years of deliberations.
UFAC recommendations may change over time due to the direction of current deliberations or discussions with the various parties involved which may alter UFAC`s position on an issue.
Sec. 51A – 10.102, (under the title of purpose and on the top of the first page of current staff recommendations), the word “preservation” was removed and replaced with the word “conservation”. The current recommendations do not require any trees to be preserved, with the exception of “historic trees” which are recognized by City Council with the consent of a property owner. There are currently no trees recognized as historic by the City Council and many feel that not protecting our largest and oldest trees is a mistake. In discussions with builders, developers, and architects over many years, there is a consensus that large and old trees should be preserved. However, they do not want to be forced into preserving any tree by the city. Given the relatively small population of large and old trees (projected to be less than 10%) and the many benefits they provide to our quality of life, it would be wise to require their preservation as long as their health and structural integrity are in reasonably good condition.
Sec. 51A – 10.101, definitions (55) (B), (on page 8 of the current ordinance recommendations from staff), Bois D` Arc or Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera), should be added to the list of significant trees. It is a native, hardy and drought tolerant species with extremely hard wood that is often used for fence posts, foundation support (such as older and smaller homes in Dallas) and the downtown streets of Dallas were once paved with Bois D` Arc blocks. The species has both male and female trees with the female producing large green fruit often called “horse apples”. For this reason, the female may not be ideal for all urban settings therefore the male should be protected. In this case, an applicant would be required to provide proof that a tree is a female, otherwise it would be considered to be a male and therefore a significant tree, assuming it is large enough to qualify.
City Ordinance 28367, Sec.51A-4.702, regarding Planned Development (PD) District Regulations. A part of the stated purpose regarding a PD is to “preserve(s) significant natural features.” However, many PD`s were approved in the past that relieved a property owner from some or all of the required tree mitigation or replacement requirements. Trees were removed without replacement or payment into the reforestation fund, as required by city regulations.
In effect, the city has lost a large amount of funds or replacement trees over the years and the property owner is provided a fiscal incentive which is not provided to all other property owners. This makes the application of a PD discriminatory and allows trees to be removed but not replaced as a financial incentive to only some property owners who file a PD application. Tree removal mitigation trees or dollars should not be used as a development incentive. A PD should be required to comply with the stated purpose of preserving significant natural features (which includes trees) and should not be used to skirt around the tree, landscape, or escarpment ordinance requirements. Close the PD loophole by not allowing the alteration of these important city ordinances. When trees are not replaced, our quality of life and the quality of our environment continues to decline. Here is a cut and paste of the language:
Sec.51A-10.134 (c), (1), (B), (page 49 under tree classification for mitigation, page 2 under tree class definitions), the value of “class 2” trees should be increased to a 1:1 ratio to be more consistent with industry standards outlined in the Guide for Tree and Landscape Appraisers by the Council of Tree and landscaper Appraisers. Class 2 trees include Oaks, Elms, Pecans and other valuable species which may be under 24 inches in diameter and therefore do not meet the definition of a “significant tree”. It is inaccurate to devalue these tree species to a 1/.7 ratio because it ignores all tree industry evaluation standards.
Sec.51A-10.133, Historic Trees, (page 47). A historic tree is defined in this section and it is protected when it is recognized by City Council and only with the authorization of the property owner. However, a heritage tree is not offered the same protection.
A heritage tree is one that has deep significance to the community, such as a tree planted to honor and important person, a significant event, or recent tragedy that may not be considered “historic”, according to the Texas Historic Tree Coalition (www.txhtc.org). These types of trees are related to significant events or persons but may not be old enough to qualify or satisfy all the qualifications to become a historic tree. However, they are significant trees which are more than worthy of protection. The term heritage tree could be altered to historic/heritage tree in this section which would still require the property owner and City Council`s approval for a heritage tree.
Sec.51A-10.135, Alternative Methods of Compliance, (page 55 under sustainable site credits and page 58 under green site points or credits). In the initial discussions with builders, developers, and architects many years ago, incentives were offered for those that would use sustainable or green building practices. As a result, a spreadsheet was developed to provide the incentives which was often referred to as the “matrix”. Although it was a new concept, it was not nearly as complex as the current incentive system.
The sustainable development incentives (SDI) were developed with some of the same principals as the matrix but were hard for the public to understand. In the final months of ZOAC deliberations, many green site points or incentives (GSI) were added to the recommended incentives which made it difficult to understand, especially how they would affect the many types of properties in Dallas. It is not clear how the various incentives would work together on any given property. UFAC fully supports sustainable development incentives but there are a considerable number of incentives offered and they are complex to understand. The conversion from canopy cover to points and inches of tree, is tough for the public to follow. It may be possible to develop a simpler and less complex system that finds a better balance in the number and types of incentives offered.
Sec.51A-10.104, Soil and Planting Area Requirements (page 12). Regarding the minimum open soil area requirements for new or legacy trees and the total soil volume required, the amounts are not large enough to allow trees to grow anywhere near their life expectancy. In the case of newly planted medium and large trees, they would grow to around 16 inches in trunk diameter and then start to decline in health, according to research. Legacy trees would grow to around 24 inches and then start to decline in health. To spare a long discussion, UFAC felt these minimums should be increased slightly to allow for larger trees to grow in the future.
Sec.51A-10.125, Mandatory Landscape Requirements, (page 24). Shared access developments were recently allow a reduced landscape area from 20% down to 10% for small developments (under 10 individual lots) and 15% for larger developments (11-36 lots). Unlike other parts of the ordinance, required street trees are allowed to also count as site trees, which reduces the number of trees planted and reduces the quality of life for residents. Given that the required landscape area was already reduced recently, street trees should not count as site trees.
General recommendations not tied to a part of the ordinance:
- With a lack of open space as Dallas continues to develop and redevelop, it seems wise to require larger residential and commercial developments to dedicate park space (or funds for park space) commensurate with the amount of square feet developed. The amount of street, parking, or built structures could related to required funds or land donations, for use as public parks.
- Since the recommended changes to the tree ordinance do not protect large, old trees or forest stands, their removal will continue to be a concern to a part of the public. One potential answer is to establish a neighborhood forest overlay (NFO) which includes the entire city. In essence, a neighborhood with significant support for tree preservation could establish their own rules (under the overlay) for governing tree or forest related issues. The issues would vary according to the needs or goals of the neighborhood such as requiring larger, healthy trees to be preserved during any construction or efforts to manage Oak Wilt, a very deadly pathogen found in many parts of Dallas. The overlay allows a neighborhood to establish their own tree management criteria and policy, based on neighborhood support. If a neighborhood wants to stop clearcutting or manage Oak Wilt in an area, an NFO would provide a valuable tool and the framework necessary. It is not clear if the NFO should be a part of the tree ordinance or require a separate process outside of the ordinance.
Commercial single family residential developments over 2 acres should be required to comply with the tree and landscape ordinance requirements before the lots are subdivided. Once a large single family development is divided into
- individual lots which are under 2 acres, many of the ordinance regulations no longer apply. In this case, the city has no recourse to ensure landscape is up to code and legacy trees are surviving or that tree mitigation fees were paid, among others.