Home Builders Unhappy With Coverage Of Tree Canopy Law


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Some who build single-family homes in downcounty neighborhoods aren't happy with a story Bethesda Now ran yesterday on the beginning of Montgomery County's tree canopy replacement program. County officials on Monday celebrated the planting of 37 trees at a Chevy Chase apartment complex. The trees were paid for by the county's controversial Tree Canopy law. The law, which went into effect in March 2014, requires developers of small-scale projects to replace trees lost during a project or pay $250 for each tree lost into a county fund. County Executive Isiah Leggett pitched the law as a way to replace what the county said was significant tree canopy loss in neighborhoods where "mansionization" was happening. Many of the builders who responded to an email from Bob Kaufman of the Maryland Building Industry Association took particular offense to the term "mansionization," which has been used by county officials to describe the process of tearing down an older home and building a bigger one on the same lot. Kaufman shared those emails with Bethesda Now. We've copied and pasted them below. Bob Kaufman, senior vice president, government affairs of the Maryland Building Industry Association: The attached article provides a good example of biased, sloppy and ill-informed writing about an issue important to the community. Not only did the reporter not include the building community to comment and educate the reporter, the reporter persisted in using one-sided, inaccurate and frankly pejorative descriptions of the current building activity and the policy to replace canopy trees in Bethesda. Homeowners building additions or building new homes on existing lots have to comply with new storm water policies that effectively require the owner to grade the entire site and pay over $3000 per lot for trees.  And should the homeowner wish to plant trees, the County law offers no credit for replanting on site unless each tree can be assured over 400 sq. feet of unobstructed space. While the County may require 12 trees, the homeowner has an impossible time to find space to plant even one tree and get credit. Further, the new homeowner has to pay for trees EVEN IF THE SITE HAD NO TREES because the law is based on grading and NOT ON TREE CLEARING.  Now the County has raised over $300,000 in one year and so far bought and planted 75 trees. At that rate, it may take 10 years just to spend the first years collection of home owner funds.  How can the media suggest fairness or balance when they persist in using pejorative "slang" to describe new home building and choose to report from only one side of an issue? New home owners and their builders increase the value of property, make infrastructure improvements, add new jobs, pay fees and taxes and substantially increase the tax base for revenue that can be used for public schools, road improvement, public safety and general services.  Shame on you. Chuck Sullivan, founder of Chuck Sullivan Homes: To Whom It May Concern, This 'news' article is full of falsehoods and exaggerations. Responsible 'reporting' should include the perspective of the most impacted stakeholders - the home buyer and their builder, yet this 'report' excludes them. I find it outrageous that 'news' agencies and government representatives continue to describe the revitalization of older communities as 'mansionization', a derogatory and inappropriate term for a new home. This is typical of the adversarial relationship that has evolved between regulatory agencies and environmentalists vs small builders trying to make a living. It doesn't have to be this way, we could be partners working on a common goal of replanting trees, but 'articles' like this only promote a fight. Ask the resident who purchased that home if it is a 'mini-mansion', I'm sure you'll get an earful. Ask the builder why he takes down trees and you'll learn about how the regulations require the removal of all the trees. Ask the builder why he doesn't plant trees and you'll learn about the excessive tree fees and the inability to find a place on any lot to plant a tree in compliance with the 'policies'. Ask a builder why they can't plant a tree in the same amount of space as the County uses for trees in their right of way.  Ask the County why they arbitrarily 'calculate' newly planted trees on private property have a 10% survival rate. Find any canopy study that does not show that the County canopy exceeds 60%. Ask a builder if they had proposed a better, fairer, and more efficient tree planting plan that would have resulted in hundreds of new trees in the same location where they were forced to remove them, instead of an unavoidable fee (tax) that has only resulted in the planting of a few trees nowhere near where trees were removed. Isn't it about time the government and 'reporters' recognized that Montgomery County is the envy of the nation because small businesses are rebuilding older communities for young families. And in the process jobs are created, existing infrastructure is not burdened, and the tax revenue from the increased property value is tripled for use by the general public? Isn't it annoying when someone puts your work in 'quotes' implying it is less than it seems? Or you could just publish an inaccurate article that demonizes builders for sensational or political purposes, which is what you did. I find this type of reporting reprehensible. Sincerely, Chuck Sullivan Mimi Brody Kress, chief operating officer of Sandy Spring Builders: My sentiments exactly when I read this yesterday. As a large down county infill home builder, I can personally tell you that since the canopy regulation and right-of-way regulation went into effect we have taken down more trees at the request of County staff. This is not saving trees it is merely collecting fees! Carter Wilson, founder and president of Carter Builders: Bob, thanks for calling him out on such a terrible story. Thanks, Carter

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