UPDATED: Committee Recommends New Tree Canopy Bill


CORRECTION: Portions of this story have been corrected to reflect the actual current proposal recommended by the Transportation & Environment Committee on Monday. A Montgomery County Council Committee on Monday recommended a new Tree Canopy Conservation bill after months of back-and-forth between the county, conservationists and home builders. The measure the Transportation & Environment Committee unanimously agreed to includes some changes from the bill the Department of Environmental Protection first proposed last year. It's meant to prevent the loss of tree canopy due to "mansionization," the recent trend of tear-down home projects that have meant bigger homes on small neighborhood lots -- especially in older Bethesda neighborhoods. The original proposal would have forced property owners or home builders in small lots to pay a fee per square foot of lost canopy into a fund that Montgomery County would then use to plant new trees nearby or off-site. After a number of meetings with members of the building industry, which quickly came out against the proposal, the measure recommended on Monday would require builders to plant a certain amount of new canopy trees on-site based on the amount of disturbance to existing trees. For example, a project with a limit of disturbance (LOD) of 9,000 square feet would require 9 new canopy trees. If the builder only plants three, it would be required to pay $1,500 for the remaining six ($250 each) into a fund that the county would use to plant the trees off-site. There would be no credit for builders who protect existing trees, as we first reported. The fee structure proposed in the original bill is out of the new recommendation, which will be vetted by the county's attorneys before it heads to full Council. Director of Environmental Protection Bob Hoyt said the new proposal was a compromise, as county officials pulled "the best" aspects from the original bill and from an alternative proposed by a group of small builders called Renewing Montgomery. All new trees planted must have a minimum of 400 square feet to grow. Stan Edwards, DEP's point person on the bill, said the county and builders remained apart on how many new trees would have to be planted on-site to make up for the lost of mature tree canopy. Edwards predicted only a third of new trees would reach mature status, meaning they grow for 25 or more years. Renewing Montgomery projected 85 percent of new trees would reach mature status. "We do not believe that every tree planted will grow to maturity. It just does not happen," Edwards said on Monday. "I think that's unreasonable to expect." Renewing Montgomery also wanted the fee to be determined by the size of the lot. DEP wanted the trigger to remain the amount of canopy damage or LOD. Committee Chair Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said he expects the Tree Canopy Preservation bill to go before the full Council in a few weeks.

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