An update from our City Council meetings this week:
-We spent a lot of time discussing the proposed tree ordinance at our meeting on Monday. Under the terms of the grant we’re using to update the ordinance, the State needs to review it before we adopt it. The State had not completed its review by Monday, so actual adoption of the ordinance will likely take place at our October meeting. One of the key points of discussion centered on the application of the ordinance to infill development. City staff and our consultant recommended exempting infill from most of the requirements from the ordinance, while the Planning Board recommended not exempting them. The crux of the disagreement is how to balance the rights of the individual property owner with the public interest in preserving the tree canopy. I don’t want to create an overly burdensome process for people looking to build a home on a lot that they own. At the same time, I think we need to be mindful that infill development, especially by non owner-occupant developers who will flip the newly developed lots, has the potential to degrade the quality of the tree canopy over time (which has happened in other municipalities). After chewing it over for a bit, I think the best balance would be to create some sort of incentive that encourages the preservation of larger trees while still allowing the property owner to build a house as they see fit. One of the suggestions that came out of the Planning Board was to allow infill property owners to get a “credit” for the trees that they save on the lot and use that towards the required landscaping trees that they would be required to plant post-construction (and which they would be required to plant outside of any changes made to the Tree Preservation Ordinance). I think something along those lines strikes the best balance, respecting individual property rights while also encouraging the preservation of existing trees.
-One aspect of our Tree Ordinance that I highlighted was the payment-in-lieu option that developers can use as a mitigation option for tree save. The way the ordinance currently reads, developers can pay a fee equivalent to the value of the land that would need to be set aside for tree save for up to 50% of the required tree save in the development. So, if 50 acres of tree save is required, the developer could pay a fee to the city equal to the value of 25 acres of land in the development. I said that I would prefer that we encourage actual tree save and/or tree banking instead of the payment-in-lieu. It is much easier to simply cut a check than it is to go out and plant some trees, so I was concerned that the payment-in-lieu option would come to be the default option for new development. I also don’t want the City to have to manage a large tree save fund, where we then have to figure out what to do with the payments-in-lieu. After some discussion, we decided that we would align the ordinance with the process for our Open Space payments-in-lieu, where the City Council has to accept the payment-in-lieu before the developer can use it as a mitigation option. I think this change will allow the Council to verify that the payment-in-lieu is truly being used as a last resort.
-We delayed action on the two code enforcement cases on the agenda because there were some legal concerns about proceeding on such old cases (the original hearing dates for these two cases was over 9 years ago). So, our new code enforcement officer will restart the process on these cases, and staff has assured Council that they have updated their internal processes to ensure that we are taking timely action on these cases.
-Council also decided to locate the new skateboard park at the new CityWorks/Rec Center property. The new location will be in the upper portion of the lot across from the CityWorks parking lot.
-Yesterday Council met with a development team looking at developing the old Imperial Mill site across from the Hawthorne neighborhood. They are still very early in their process and were looking to get some feedback on their project plans before they start the formal development process. The project calls for a mix of commercial use, town homes, and apartments on the site. I raised some concerns about their plans for the apartments and encouraged them to explore some commercial uses for that part of the site. We also discussed the need to ensure that whatever town homes are located across the street from Hawthorne are compatible with the existing neighborhood. The development team seemed receptive to our feedback and said that they would take it all in as they come up with a plan for that site. So, we’ll see what they come back with.