April 3, 2003
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Giving a tree ordinance roots

For those who watch Village Council’s proceedings closely, one of the more frustrating issues Council has tried to tackle is creating a tree preservation ordinance. Like a carousel, the issue keeps coming around and around, only no one has been able to make the ride much fun, or come up with a solution that Council members can agree on. It’s time for Council to make a decision on whether to make law an ordinance to protect certain trees and provide a forum to discuss plans to cut down trees. The support here is for a proposal that was submitted to Council in February.

That proposal, which was signed by five local residents who have served on the Tree Preservation Ordinance Subcommittee, would only include trees in and around downtown, including Mills Lawn. The thrust of the proposal is the creation of a board to review plans to cut down or significantly alter trees in those areas. The review board would not have authority to halt such activity, but the assessment would give local residents a chance to comment and be included in the plans. It would also provide a good forum through which property owners could explain why they need to cut down trees. This could help diffuse controversial situations.

Last month, the Council president, Tony Arnett, volunteered to work with the subcommittee to write a more detailed proposal that includes language that specifically defines the review process. The new proposal should also include language to explain what trees would be subject to review and what constitutes significant action.

This new proposal, which is expected to be offered this month, will be important since some Council members are clearly uneasy with the idea of placing a tree ordinance on the books. While Council has said in the past that it supports the idea of an ordinance, it wavers when a proposal is brought forward. This was evident last month, when at least one Council member, George Pitstick, and several audience members, questioned the proposed ordinance’s lack of bite, or punitive punch. This contradicted the message Council sent last spring, when its members said they did not want a tree ordinance with bite.

The ordinance could be written with semi-sharp teeth, giving the Village the authority to fine or levy another kind of penalty on property owners who do not go through the review process. The point of approving the ordinance is not to punish property owners, but to educate the community about trees and to provide a better public process to discuss plans that would significantly alter downtown.

For a year and a half, local residents and Village officials have worked hard to write a good tree ordinance. The main concept has remained the same though the details have changed widely. Council needs to help make this good effort bear fruit.

Creating a tree ordinance, admittedly, would be largely symbolic. But sometimes symbolic laws are worthwhile when they make a statement about what Yellow Springs stands for. In this case, a tree protection ordinance is worth supporting because of the message it sends: the community values its trees.

—Robert Mihalek