Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hillside ordinance up for study and possible revision; it needs to go back to pre-veto version and be strenghtened EVEN MORE! Can you say true enforcement?

I was spending most of my time in Little Rock when the tree ordinance was first passed in the 80s, I think?
Anyway, I wasn't seeing local news stories on it, just an occasional short on it in the LR papers where I was employed as outdoor editor. When I moved back to Fayetteville full time one and a half years after the Gazette was bought and closed by the Democrat, I thought the ordinance was actually a strong one. I assumed all cutting of trees required a special tree-by-tree permit anywhere in the city. Then I saw people taking out trees on their own lots for no logical reason and developers removing acres of trees with no concern about erosion or flooding. The the Hillside ordinance was proposed and worked on for years and finally approved by the council only to have the most significant parts vetoed by Mayor Coody.
Boy, I must have been really naive to believe that Fayetteville was really going to protect its urban forest!
Second chance time is now with a new administration guided by people who really care about the local environment.

Hillside ordinance reviewed - once again

By Robin Mero

Thursday, October 29, 2009

FAYETTEVILLE — Discussion was resurrected Tuesday about the city’s Hillside Ordinance, passed in 2006 after four years of debate.

The Fayetteville City Council’s Ordinance Review Committee met to discuss the ordinance, because several aldermen asked city staff to reviewsome aspects. Another discussion is planned, but no date was set.

It’s too soon to evaluate overall success of the ordinance, Karen Minkel, director of strategic planning and internal consulting, said. That will take five years of data, particularly since development has slowed.

Minkel did recommend two revisions, oneto a part of the ordinance vetoed by former Mayor Dan Coody. She suggested the city require that design professionals review plans for new foundations, and that building projects not involving a roof line be exempt from a tree preservation plan requirement.

Several people spoke against the first suggestion for being unnecessary and expensive.

Passed in 2006, the city’s hillside ordinance sets a specific overlay district, spread throughout the city, based on hill slopes. It was intended to control problems with erosion and runoff.

The ordinance is actually a series of amendments to existing ordinances governing grading, drainage, storm water and treepreservation. The amendments govern about 3,000 acres of hillsides and hilltops.

When building takes place within the district, requirements arise involving trees.

For instance, if someone plans to build a single-family home or add to a home, a permit is required - including review of a tree preservation plan. The plan can be drawn by hand, Director of Development Services Jeremy Pate said.

The plan identifies the existing tree canopy, and details what trees will be removed and preserved. The planting of new trees may be required to meet minimum canopy requirements, which range up to30 percent.

The ordinance took four years to perfect. When passed, it included two requirements that Coody vetoed three days later.

Those two requirements:

◊That foundations in the district be designed by licensed engineers. Drawings had to be submitted to the city to ensure, among other reasons, that drainage wouldn’t adversely affect neighbors.

“A lot of conversation had to do with soils. We have bad soils throughout the city. A concern was why shouldn’t we regulate someone else with bad soil [not on a hillside],” Pate said. “The counter-side is that a hillside compounds the problem. There’s more likelihood it could affect a neighbor.”

Minkel said that staff now suggests requiring a design professional to review, not create, the plans. This may cost the property owner, but most are doing this anyway so they don’t have to go back and fix problems, she said. It makes foundation failures less likely.

Bob Caulk spoke, representing the League of Women Voters of Washington County - which was heavily involved in crafting the ordinance.

He expressed concern that involving engineers will increase costs.

“You’re basically saying there will be no more affordable housing in the hillside overlay district. Period.” Caulk said.

◊Setting requirements for tree preservation.

If a builder or home owner reduced the tree canopy on a lot, whatever was saved would be permanently protected. Further trees could never be removed.

Minkel said staff doesn’t recommend pursuing the preservation requirement. Neighbors could have differing requirements, which would be unfair and difficult to enforce.

Minkel had one other suggestion, which she said would remove ambiguity and reduce a burden for residents.

Currently, remodeling sections of a building, such as a bathroom, requires submission of an abbreviated tree preservation plan.

Minkel suggested exempting work that wouldn’t affect a roofline.

Alderman Matthew Petty asked staff ifthey considered what’s involved to require abbreviated tree preservation plans throughout the city, not just in the hillside district.

Pate said that could overwhelm staff, and that option was eliminated before the ordinance passed. Review of the plan requires a site visit.

Petty said he wants the public to know the city does “quite a bit for trees in every development, even outside the hillside district.”

Coody attended the meeting and spoke during public comment.

“The hilltop ordinance was the most progressive and far-reaching development ordinance in the state of Arkansas, and I think it did a lot of good,” Coody said.

Alderman Sarah Lewis seemed interested in expanding the tree preservation process throughout the city, not just in the hillside district. She suggested requiring a permit to cut down a tree.

“If you’re doing a development, you need to be protecting the trees on that lot. The difficulty comes when you’re writing the law. How do you word that and how do you staff that? Do we need a tree preservation plan for individual lots, or can itbe a request to remove trees?” Lewis said. “I also think our whole town has enough soil problems that we should be looking at soil tests.”

News, Pages 1 on 10/29/2009

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