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Tree ordinance closes every loophole but cash on the barrel head


City Arborist Mark Bird casts tree ordinance foliage in finer detail as Sanchez (center) and Williams (far right) work crowd control.

Greg Harman

An updated tree ordinance intended to close two major loopholes that have plagued San Antonio's natural scene is making its final passes along the committee taffy-making circuit as it heads to the City Council.

Councilman Reed Williams opened the public meeting at Igo Public Library earlier this week saying, “We all love trees. I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love a tree. It's just that sometimes we think they're in the wrong place.”

Damn squirrels, interrupting Mother Nature's nut-dropping wisdom and such.

Following the publication of a study of San Antonio's tree cover by American Forests, City leaders asked staff to examine ways of bumping San Antonio's total tree canopy up from 38 percent to 40 percent, said Rod Sanchez, the city's director of development services. Two key reforms intended to make clear-cutting, if not illegal, less profitable.

Today, residents living on tens of acres may still declare themselves exempt from tree laws under the “single family exemption” and buzz their holdings to make way for box stores. But the new ordinance moving toward a possible Council vote in April would limit such exemptions to those living on a maximum half-acre, Sanchez said.

And by adopting strict tree canopy requirements, city staff hope they are on the way toward closing the troubling agricultural exemptions that have allowed large tracts of the City and its extra-territorial jurisdiction to be razed in the past.

However, as was pointed out by several in attendance, not even the largest and most stately “heritage” tree is secure from development.

While developers can still buzz away virtually any tree, they will have to double what they pay per tree taken down. For every tree more than an inch diameter taken out developers have to pay $200. Currently they pay $100 per tree. Also, they would have to mitigate for the tree losses. A so-called “heritage” tree requires three trees to be planted elsewhere. Heritage trees are defined as:

(B) Heritage Trees. A heritage tree means a tree of twenty-four (24) inches or greater DBH for all tree species except the following species are heritage with at least one (1) trunk being twelve (12) inches or greater DBH (the value of the twelve (12) inches or greater trunk is the value given to these small tree species):

1. Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana);

2. Texas redbud (var. texensis);

3. Texas Mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora);

4. Condalia (Condalia hookeri);

5. Possum haw (Ilex decidua - in floodplain only);

6. Hawthorne (crataegus texana).

Also, developers are currently allowed to shrink the amount of area fenced off for “root protection” on those larger, heritage trees if they pay a little extra. But Sanchez said that provision could be eliminated under the language of the new ordinance.

While many types of trees are not covered in the protections (including destructive non-native trees such as Chinese pistache, chinaberry, Chinese tallow, salt cedar, and Japanese ligustrum), the amount of tree canopy from desired species in the ordinance is currently set at:

1) Single Family Residential 38%

2) Multi-family 25%

3) Other Nonresidential 20%

4) CRAG `downtown` area 15%;

5) Industrial 10%

However, these percentages are still in play and being hotly debated. They are likely to be revisited at Tuesday's final meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee. It then marches on to the planning commission on March 10 and the infrastructure and growth committee on March 16 before landing in the Council's lap April Fools' Day.

For more information, contact the Planning & Development Services Department or the Citizens Tree Coalition.

Also, you can read the draft ordinance below...

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