Compiled from Board Reports
Two tree bills under consideration in the Montgomery County Council - and strongly supported by county residents -- are getting closer to time for full Council votes.
|Councilmember Hans Riemer|
The Montgomery County Council Transportation & Environment (T&E) Committee voted 2-1 on June 24th to move the Streets and Roadside Trees Bill (Bill 41-12) out of committee and on to the full Council for a vote.Committee Chair Roger Berliner of Bethesda and At Large Council Member Hans Riemer both voted in favor of the bill with a few amendments.
Bill 35-12, a companion urban canopy bill to Bill 41-12, was discussed for about 25 minutes at the end of the work session. Bill 35-12 does not stop development. Nor does it interfere with a homeowner's desire to cut down individual trees on his/her property -- as opponents have led some residents to believe. The legislation is only triggered when a Sediment Control Permit is required by the County for buliding projects.
The urban canopy bill proposes a fee to compensate for the amount of tree canopy that is being removed so that canopy can be replaced within the same watershed as where it was removed; then replanting will be managed by the County under an aggressive tree-planting program. The bill is expected to be discussed in full with remaining issues addressed at a July 8th meeting of the committee.
At least five votes are needed in the full Montgomery County Council for the street tree bill to pass, and for Bill 35-12, which is sponsored by County Executive Isiah Leggett, to pass once it is moved out of committee.
Councilmember Riemer said the bill is essentially a "tree care and maintenance plan" for trees along County streets and rights of way.
"The purpose of this bill as it stands today is to empower us to participate in how street trees are managed," said Riemer.
"This bill started as a conversation to allow Montgomery County to take on its own work on right of way trees," said Riemer. "We could do a lot more."
At the T&E work session, State Department of Natural Resources employees Steve Koehn and Marian Honeczy were present to discuss Bill 41-12, as requested by Councilmember and Committee member Nancy Floreen. At times, Koehn and Honeczy were combative with Committee members, once prompting Chairman Berliner to make note of a "snarky" tone in their comments.
Councilmember Roger Berliner from Bethesda
After the June 24th committee session, Berliner addressed the State's reluctance to allow Montgomery County to fully manage its own street tree program in his constituent newsletter. "Today, the trees in our County's rights of way are subject to state control pursuant to a 1914 law," Berliner wrote. "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. And the state has made it clear that they have no intention of relinquishing their authority."
Bill 41-12, sponsored by Councilmember Berliner and At Large Councilmember Marc Elrich, would provide Montgomery County with a stronger role in protecting street trees along the county rights of way as natural assets -- instead of relying solely on state resources and jurisdiction. The legislation would provide the County's Department of Permitting Services the authority it needs to protect trees in the County rights of way.
At a record of 16 drafts, Bill 41-12 builds on the County's existing authority to make sure that any work done in the public rights of way is done in a manner that protects street and roadside trees. If a tree must come down, the bill requires a 3:1 replacement ratio -- which is much stricter than the state law.
Builders have mounted strong opposition to both tree bills, claiming that they are unnecessary. Click here to read the latest claims made regarding Bill 35-12 as relayed by Renewing Montgomery, a small group of infill builders attempting to "kill" both tree bills.
The building community blames Montgomery County stormwater regulations with creating the need to cut down more trees on individual lots being developed. In particular, one commonly used method of capturing polluted stormwater onsite is by installing underground drywells.
But according to a Department of Permitting Services (DPS) official, stormwater management is not always the reason for tree removal on individual lots where new houses are being built -- or where existing houses are being torn down and replaced with McMansions.
DPS Land Development Division Chief Rick Brush, a veteran civil engineer at the department who has reviewed many site plans over the years, says trees are not always removed because of stormwater management.
"Certainly there are those times when (stormwater) measures are proposed that affect trees on a site," said Brush. "However, there are plenty of instances when trees are removed and it has nothing to do with stormwater management. There are other factors like the size of the house being built, elevation, or the location of the house and whether the footprint is near the root structure and position of trees."
Read an article on the latest health study showing that urban trees can save at least one life a year.