May 1, 2003
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Council tables tree ordinance

Village Council tabled last week a tree preservation ordinance after the majority of Council members expressed opposition to the proposal.

At its meeting April 21, Council indicated interest in providing education for those who might cut down historic trees, but discomfort with making laws that they feel would punish them for doing so.

“It’s the right idea but the wrong approach,” Council member George Pitstick said about the proposal.

The ordinance was created by a volunteer committee charged a year ago with the task. Council gave the committee its charge in an attempt to avoid a situation similar to that which took place in September 2001, when the cutting down of two historic Osage orange trees in front of Ye Olde Trail Tavern resulted in a public outcry. Following the Tavern incident, some villagers suggested the Village create a tree preservation ordinance.

However, Council members opposed the ordinance as too punitive, even though it suggested a process that involves a Tree Review Board making only recommendations, not demands, to those who would cut down trees, and only in the central business district. The ordinance would have levied a fine on property owners who did not consult the board before cutting down trees.

“I find the ordinance negative,” said Pitstick, who described it as a “nuisance ordinance” like village laws that fine villagers for having barking dogs or animals at large. “It becomes something that one neighbor uses against another. It creates disharmony in the village.”

“It’s pitting one neighbor against another,” Council member Mary Alexander said about her opposition to the ordinance.

Denise Swinger stated that she opposed the ordinance because “I don’t want anything punitive. I want to keep it educational.”

Only Joan Horn supported the proposal, saying that “nuisance laws” are often helpful in maintaining harmonious relations because they give local residents a means of recourse if their rights are being infringed upon. She also said that Council members should be willing to make a law if they believe that tree preservation matters.

“If something is right and you want it to happen” then Council needs to be willing to create legislation to support that action, she said. “It’s one other way of saying that trees are important to us.”

The ordinance would “preserve the ambiance and quality of downtown Yellow Springs” by protecting the trees in the central business district, including Mills Lawn. It called for the creation of a Tree Review Board, which would consist of five members, including one each from the Planning and Environmental Commissions.

The ordinance stated that property owners needed to notify the board if they planned to remove any tree larger than six inches in diameter at chest height, or before removing major limbs. At that point, the board, which would also “call on the services of a certified arborist,” would visit the tree site to determine if the tree removal would adversely affect the ambiance of downtown. The board would later make a recommendation. If a tree owner did not call the board before tree removal, the owner would be subject to a minor misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum $100 fine.

“We wanted a rule that would make people stop and think before cutting down trees,” said Ann Gayek, a committee member. Other residents who helped write the ordinance are Rick Donahoe, Cy Tebbetts, Suzanne Patterson and Helen Eier, as well as Council president Tony Arnett.

However, the tree ordinance would heighten business people’s fears that Yellow Springs is antibusiness, said audience member Peggy Erskine.

“Yellow Springs is having a hard time overcoming the image that it’s not supportive to business and industry,” Erskine said. “From an image standpoint it’s not helpful to the community.”

While Council members did not support passing the ordinance, they stated their support for a tree preservation committee that would offer educational advice to property owners.

Pitstick suggested that the ordinance be tabled until June, and in the meantime he and Horn would work on preparing an “alternative approach” to tree preservation.

Audience member Marianne MacQueen expressed concern that Council had asked local residents to volunteer their time to write a proposal, then did not accept it.

“I’ve seen it happen more than once,” MacQueen said. “I’m concerned when volunteers put a lot of work into something like this.” Council’s dismissal of the proposal “undercuts leadership and creates hard feelings,” she said.

Council still intends to address the tree preservation issue, Arnett said.

“We’re trying to find a way this work is carried on,” he said. “This objective is not dead but the answer is still no.”

—Diane Chiddister