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Tree preservation discussion continues

May 19, 2019

A short-term tree preservation ordinance could hold a long-term goal for Rochester.

As members of the Committee on Urban Design and Environment discussed options for an interim ordinance to address concerns of tree loss amid ongoing development, they cited a desire to grow the city’s canopy cover.

“If that’s the direction this ordinance is going, we need to memorialize that from the start,” CUDE Chairman Paul Sims said, noting it could serve as a starting point for a future urban forest master plan.

With plans to conduct a citywide tree canopy assessment this year and develop an urban forest master plan in the future, the Rochester City Council asked the committee to move forward on proposing a tree preservation ordinance, even if it’s a place-holder for part of an eventual master plan.

On Thursday, seven committee members — one fewer than the quorum needed to take action — narrowed options with plans to review a draft of a potential ordinance next month.

Establishing a goal of increasing tree coverage appeared to be an option favored by the committee.

Current estimates put the city’s tree canopy — the layer of tree leaves and branches that provide coverage of the ground — at nearly 26 percent, but the Society of American Forests recommends cities have canopy covers of 40 percent.

Rochester City Forester Jeff Haberman said creating an ordinance that focuses on canopy coverage, rather than the traditional diameter of tree trunks, could help maintain and eventually increase coverage.

Angela Gupta, a CUDE member and University of Minnesota Extension educator with a focus on forestry, agreed.

“The benefits are more related to canopy cover than diameter,” she said, noting shade has positive impacts on energy use and other factors communitywide.

The decision to focus on canopy is only one factor needing to be considered as the potential ordinance is developed. Others include details on who will be affected by the ordinance and the impact of the policy.

Sandi Goslee, a principal planner with the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department who works with CUDE, said an ordinance can have many variables.

“Some communities were very restrictive: ‘You can’t cut down these trees.’ There’s a big difference between that type of tree-preservation ordinance and one that says you can cut down the trees, but you have to replace them,” she said. “That gives the builder all the flexibility they want as far as where those trees are going to be located and what kind they are.”

Once the committee settles on details for a proposed ordinance, it will be sent to the council for review before heading to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for a recommendation. The council would later make a final decision on whether to adopt the ordinance.

At this point, the initial council review is tentatively slated for Sept. 16.

Ahead of CUDE’s June review of a draft ordinance, Haberman will work with Gupta and CUDE member Barbara Hudson to hammer out details related to potential ordinance goals.

As work continues to answer questions related to the potential ordinance, Sims said care is also needed to balance tree preservation goals with the city’s goals for development density.

“I want to make sure we balance this,” he said.

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