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Tree Bills: Passed
July 31st, 2013
Bradley Park Community Garden

Many of us love our County's beautiful trees. In recognition of the environmental, economic, and aesthetic value that trees add to our quality of life, my colleague Marc Elrich and I have been hard at work for some time on legislation that will protect trees in our County rights of way, which typically is the area between the sidewalk and the curb. The County Executive also developed a bill -- five years in the making -- that would help preserve our tree canopy in the downcounty from the effects of infill development. I am very pleased that, following months of hard work to get these bills just right, the Council passed both of them.

 

In the days following passage, and some erroneous media coverage, my office received a number of communications expressing concerns that homeowners would be required to pay the county if they wanted to take down a tree or trees on their own property.  No.  That is not the case.  The trigger for the tree canopy legislation is a Sediment Control Permit, which means the homeowner plans to disturb more than 5,000 square feet of earth.  In almost all cases, this permit is used for the construction of a new home or construction of a similar scale.  So, removing trees on your own property is still completely the choice of homeowners as long as they are not required to obtain a Sediment Control Permit.

 

What the legislation does do is say to a builder that if they are taking down trees on a particular lot to build a new home, they must plant or pay into a fund what is required to create 50% tree canopy coverage on that lot. We did so because many neighborhoods have experienced a loss of trees during infill development, particularly on small lots. And our Council unanimously agreed that trees have value to our larger community, and that value needs to be reflected. We did not "regulate" whether the trees can be taken down, an approach some communities across the country and in our county

have adopted. But we did decide that we want trees replanted to compensate for their loss, and the fund will be used in areas where our tree canopy is less than it should be.  The first priority, however, will be to replant onsite if it is possible. 

 

Bill 41-12, or the "road-side tree bill," applies to trees in the County's rights of way. I have always believed that these trees are our County's assets which we have an inherent interest in protecting. As such, the bill clarifies responsibility for roadside trees and establishes a process for a builder or property owner that wants to remove one. It will still be possible to remove trees in County rights of way -- but one of the key provisions of this bill is that once the tree is removed, a new tree must be planted as close as possible to the original and the equivalent cost of two additional trees must be paid into a fund that will be used to plant trees in parts of the County that are "under-treed".  Importantly, any tree recognized by the Department of Permitting Services as a danger to persons or property will not trigger the three to one replacement requirement. 

 

As I said, these bills reflect the importance of trees to our County's residents. But they also reflect the tremendous hard work of all of the stakeholders involved, including both environmentalists and the building community, and I thank them for their critical input over the bills' development.  I am very pleased that these bills were passed and that our trees will be better protected and preserved. 
Roadside Tree Bill Passes Out of Committee
June 27, 2013
Bradley Park Community Garden
I have always believed the government must take the lead in protecting our natural assets, including trees.  As you may know, my colleague Marc Elrich and I have been working on legislation that would provide the County's Department of Permitting Services the authority it needs to protect our trees in County rights of way.  The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair, recommended approval of that legislation to the full Council earlier this week.
  

Today, the trees in our County's rights of way are subject to state control pursuant to a 1914 law.  I have never understood -- almost a hundred years later -- when our County clearly has a much greater interest in protecting our own assets than the state does, why this structure makes any sense.  But, there it is, and the state has made it clear that they have no intention of relinquishing their authority. 

 

So, the bill that I have worked on very hard (it has set a record of 16 drafts!) essentially builds on the County's existing authority to make sure that any work done in our rights of way is done in a manner that protects our trees.  And if a tree must come down, the bill requires a 3:1 replacement ratio -- which is much stricter than the state law.   

 

Many environmental groups, citizens associations, residents, and County agencies supported this bill and I would like to thank them for all their hard work.

An Update on Trees
March 14, 2013
Bradley Park Community Garden Trees.  So important to our community.  My committee is still working hard on two measures regarding trees:  (1) a measure that Councilmember Elrich and I have sponsored to provide additional protection for trees on our county's rights of way; and (2) a County Executive bill that seeks to mitigate the loss of tree canopy primarily due to infill development in the down county area.
 
I am happy to report that I do believe we are making progress.  That positive assessment will be put to the test on April 1st when the T&E Committee takes up these measures again.  We have had two serious work sessions already, and in the process we have refined what we need to do -- particularly with regard to the street trees -- and not do more than we need to do.  But nothing we do with respect to trees is without controversy .....and this will probably not be an exception to that rule!
Update on County Tree Legislation
February 11, 2013
Our county's tree canopy is a substantial asset - economically, aesthetically, and environmentally.  Protecting our trees is important work - and hard work.  How it is done not only affects the values we want to promote, such as those above, but also has economic consequences, particularly for builders and owners of residential lots that are being redeveloped. 

 

There are two bills that have been introduced that are seeking to provide more protection for our tree canopy than exists currently - a narrow "street tree" bill that I have introduced with Councilmember Elrich and a broader "tree canopy" bill that was drafted by the County Executive.  You may have seen information about these bills sent by builders who oppose these measures.  In part, I want to make sure that you understand how different they are.  My "street tree" bill, Bill 41-12, for example, is only intended to protect trees in our County's right of way -- and not impact or intrude upon private property rights.  You would not know that from the material that is being circulated.

 

In one of the oddities of our law, trees in our county's right of way are subject to state permitting authority.  I have never understood why we in Montgomery County would want one of our assets to be subject to a distant state bureaucracy.  That fundamental disconnect was deepened when the state acknowledged, in writing, that it had no capacity to enforce the law due to a lack of resources.  Typically the state law is invoked when a builder wants to take down a tree in our right of way to facilitate a new driveway for a home being built on an "in-fill" lot in the down county.  The builder typically pays the state $25 for a permit to take down the tree and is required to plant a new one in its place. 

 

Bill 41-12 is designed to allow our County, not the state, to ensure that trees in our County's right of ways are protected by us.  The bill takes most of the provisions of the state law and incorporates them into our law, which our county counsel has said is necessary for us to enforce the law.  But it is only activity in our right of way, not on private property, that is subject to this proposed legislation. 

 

The County Executive's "tree canopy" legislation, Bill 35-12,  is much broader and does affect private property rights.  The legislation is born out of the conviction that there is a value to our county in having tree canopy, particularly down county where infill development is taking place.  It basically says that if you take down trees to build a new home, you must pay into a fund that the county will use to replant trees elsewhere.  How much is paid has not been specified in the legislation.  As Chair of the committee that has jurisdiction over this measure, I have advised the County Executive's staff that I will not move the bill out of committee until we know how much we are charging for canopy.  It is the critical issue and it must be dealt with in the legislation. 

 

So, there you have it.  Trees are a valuable asset, and protecting them is a legitimate exercise of our county's authority.  Doing it sensibly and responsibly is a harder challenge, one we will continue to work on. 
Street Tree Legislation
December 19, 2012

Trees are a resource; a resource that we, as a County, must protect.  Currently, our county attorneys have told us that it is not clear that we can enforce a state law that ostensibly protects our County's street trees. That state law was recently amended to allow counties like ours to adopt a local ordinance that would protect this valuable county asset. As a result, Councilmember Elrich and I have introduced legislation that would essentially codify the state law in county law and at the same time, streamline our own process by placing all responsibility for this function in one department.

 

The existing permitting process for handling trees in the County's right-of-way lacks clarity and is understaffed.  It is one of the reasons why the County Executive's staff has been supportive of clarifying our County's responsibility over street trees.

 

My office has already received correspondence from people concerned that this legislation would make it harder for Pepco to make sure that trees are not threatening electric lines. No. This bill does not inhibit Pepco from performing its tree maintenance responsibilities, a responsibility that is overseen by the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Proposed Tree Legislation
September 25, 2012

Earlier this month I was joined by Councilmember Elrich in introducing legislation aimed at increasing accountability regarding Pepco's vegetation management practices.  This measure will help to better protect one of the County's most valuable natural resources - our trees. The trees in our right of way that line our streets and roads serve many valuable purposes which include maintaining the beauty of our suburban/urban landscape. We are mindful that their value extends far wider and protects the quality of our air, water and wildlife. At the same time, the legislation recognizes that tree trimming done properly can play a significant role in increasing Pepco's reliability.  

 

The bill focuses on vegetation management by utilities and continues our work to ensure that our utilities find the balance between delivering reliable service and trimming our trees. It will:  

1. Require that vegetation management plans be submitted to the County so that we can know where the trimming is planned, to ensure that best practices will be followed to ensure tree health and that there will be oversight and follow up inspection to make sure these standards have been followed.

 

2. The legislation provides for a "Customer Bill of Rights" so that homeowners and the utilities will know their rights and responsibilities in a clear, concise and easy to understand manner.  

3. We have included a process so that if a tree poses an imminent hazard to the system and thus to our citizens ability to receive electricity and the homeowner withholds consent, the utility may ask the Chief of Tree Maintenance to inspect the tree and, if they agree, the Chief can direct the utility to remove the tree without obtaining the consent of the owner.

 

4. Along Rural and Rustic Roads and in Historic Districts, trees in the public right of way or within 35' of the road centerline can only be removed with the consent of the Chief of Tree Maintenance.

 

I recently authored a piece for the Gazette newspaper in response to an editorial that you can find here.

 

The legislation will go to public hearing on June 12 at 7:30 pm.  I invite anyone who has had concerns or issues with Pepco's practices to speak at the public hearing.  To sign up, please call (240) 777-7803.

Proposed Vegetation Management Legislation
May 17, 2012

Earlier this month I was joined by Councilmember Elrich in introducing legislation aimed at increasing accountability regarding Pepco's vegetation management practices.  This measure will help to better protect one of the County's most valuable natural resources - our trees. The trees in our right of way that line our streets and roads serve many valuable purposes which include maintaining the beauty of our suburban/urban landscape. We are mindful that their value extends far wider and protects the quality of our air, water and wildlife. At the same time, the legislation recognizes that tree trimming done properly can play a significant role in increasing Pepco's reliability.  

 
The bill focuses on vegetation management by utilities and continues our work to ensure that our utilities find the balance between delivering reliable service and trimming our trees. It will:

1. Require that vegetation management plans be submitted to the County so that we can know where the trimming is planned, to ensure that best practices will be followed to ensure tree health and that there will be oversight and follow up inspection to make sure these standards have been followed.
 
2. The legislation provides for a "Customer Bill of Rights" so that homeowners and the utilities will know their rights and responsibilities in a clear, concise and easy to understand manner.
3. We have included a process so that if a tree poses an imminent hazard to the system and thus to our citizens ability to receive electricity and the homeowner withholds consent, the utility may ask the Chief of Tree Maintenance to inspect the tree and, if they agree, the Chief can direct the utility to remove the tree without obtaining the consent of the owner.
 
4. Along Rural and Rustic Roads and in Historic Districts, trees in the public right of way or within 35' of the road centerline can only be removed with the consent of the Chief of Tree Maintenance.
 

I recently authored a piece for the Gazette newspaper in response to an editorial that you can find here.

 

The legislation will go to public hearing on June 12 at 7:30 pm.  I invite anyone who has had concerns or issues with Pepco's practices to speak at the public hearing.  To sign up, please call (240) 777-7803.



Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Ave, Rockville MD 20850
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