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News Notes on Landscape Laws

By Buck Abbey, ASLA

Red Hook, NY's tree ordinance requires that new trees shall be placed at safe distances from the edge of the pavement equivalent to that of the removed tree and all tree replacement shall be made within one (1) month of the removal.

Municipal green laws are any requirements or design standards contained within zoning regulations that protect, preserve or rebuild nature in the city. Communities across the nation struggle with drafting local codes and standards to protect nature in urban areas.

Red Hook Village, New York has developed an urban forestry management plan to better manage city trees. They understand as more and more trees are removed, the ones that remain become more important to protect the character of their town. Friday Harbor, Washington is trying to find ways to protect trees while residents remove trees for fear that regulation may restrict the free use of their land. Marco Island, Florida recently has made national news when fine line language in their code and mis-interpretation by citizens has allowed the introduction of synthetic grass in this beachside town. It is informative for landscape architects interested in zoning law to look at what some not-so-well known communities are doing with their landscape laws.

Red Hook Village, New York enacted a tree ordinance in response to the community losing to development many old maple trees some of which were over one hundred years old.

The ordinance provides an annual budget for the community forestry programs and has established the Red Hook Village Green Committee to advise village government on matters of community forestry and the Arbor Day observance. Recently the committee with the help of Cornell University completed an urban forestry management plan. The tree ordinance’s various provisions require that village trees be periodically inspected for health and vitality and any hazard that they might pose. All new trees planted in the city shall be selected based upon caliper, site micro-climate, biodiversity and site specific safety. The tree ordinance is expected to improve the village's aesthetics and preserve its unique sense of place and ecological health for many years to come.

Friday Harbor, Washington recently lost a dozen old trees when rumors of an impending tree protection ordinance caused a property owner to remove trees fearing that the ordinance might restrict their ability to remove them later. It was pointed out by residents that the community was losing its trees at a rapid rate and the character of the town was changing. These views were supported by the town historic review board and several council members that noted that more trees are being lost so the ones that remain are even more important to the city's historic past.

Tree preservation and protection ordinances are being written and adopted in many communities to save trees and the native or historic landscape of a community. This is not the first instance where discussion of enactment of a new tree law has been directly responsible for the death of living trees.

Marco Island, Florida's landscape code recently made national news due to a flaw in its drafting that suggested to a property owner that synthetic turf grass was acceptable as a ground cover. The battle that raged for months at the Planning Commission and City Council was recently put to rest when the Council voted against the property owner in a three to two vote. Upon on close inspection of the community landscape code Article IV, Sec. 30.431, Ord. No 02-22 ? 1,7-15-2002, Sec 30-436(2) it would appear to most landscape architects that the use of manufactured grass would not meet the standard of aesthetic appearance, harmonization of the natural environment to the built environment and promotion of the native plants standard contained within the ordinance.

The controversy has resulted in amendments to the Marco Island Land Development Code, changes in the language of the landscape code and the formation of a local 'Smart Yards' program, which makes citizens more familiar with the community landscape code and the conservation principles of the Florida Yards & Neighborhood Program. Development regulations must be carefully drafted in common language to be clear and precise. It is also a presumptive idea to insert a 'final landscape plan review clause' into the code to allow code administrators to have the final say on any misinterpretation of the code language before landscape plans are implemented. Not after.

D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Legislation.

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June 18, 2019, 8:45 am PDT

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