Several months ago, I wrote about the Dallas Tree “Preservation” Ordinance, or Article 10 of the Dallas Development Code — its history, weaknesses and current efforts to update it.
The Urban Forestry Advisory Committee, with members appointed by mayors Miller and Leppert, has been meeting regularly for three years, and recently presented its proposed revisions to the ordinance.
A number of recommendations would significantly improve the ordinance. One of the most important is that control over tree decisions would change from the city’s building official to its chief arborist. That makes a great deal of sense because the arborist’s role is to protect the city’s tree canopy, but the building official is part of the Development Services Department, which promotes development in Dallas. An official whose role is to both make development easier and also protect trees has a major conflict in job responsibilities.
Another recommendation is to establish a Department of Urban Forestry, with arborists assigned to this department rather than to Development Services, as is currently the case. Although city officials have discussed creating an Urban Forestry Department, budget considerations have always prevented it. With a grim budget outlook for next year too, it’s unlikely that the city council will establish this department anytime soon.
The proposal contains two new categories of trees: heritage trees and historic trees. Heritage trees would be protected trees with calipers of 24 inches or more, large post oaks, or groves of trees that have reached unusually large sizes for their species. A historic tree would be one that has a “significant cultural connection with the citizens of Dallas, past and present, and those cultures living in the area prior to the mid-1800s, and would include trees that are the only living witnesses to historic events.” Removing heritage or historic trees would be much more difficult, and replacing them much more costly.
When new homes are built in established neighborhoods, the root zones of existing large trees are sometimes covered by concrete for foundations and driveways, or have heavy construction equipment or supplies placed on them. These practices compact the soil and cause the trees to slowly die. Proposed regulations would require that root zones be protected by galvanized chain link fencing rather than the flimsy orange plastic fencing currently allowed. Other proposals include protecting the critical root zones of trees on neighboring properties, and adequately watering new and existing trees on the development site.
An intriguing new idea contained in the proposed revisions is the creation of neighborhood tree conservation districts. These districts would be requested by neighborhood residents to help preserve the existing tree canopy and significant single trees in neighborhoods that are experiencing residential redevelopment.
The Urban Forestry Advisory Committee is still working on incentives that would encourage developers to preserve more trees on their sites. Next up is a Development Services Department staff review of the proposed revisions, and then the revised ordinance will be further reviewed by several city hall boards and commissions, and ultimately presented to the city council for a final decision.
With all the good proposed changes, some major problems remain. One of the worst is clear-cutting of trees, or what some people call “weekend massacres”. This is still not addressed in the revisions. Other problems that need attention are weak enforcement of the ordinance, too many exceptions to the regulations, exemptions of parcels less than two acres from any tree controls, and no provisions to control the spread of tree diseases.
Next month’s column will discuss these problems in more detail and give the latest status of the revisions.