Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Take Action to Protect Portland's Trees

UPDATE: The window for comments has now passed, but I'm leaving this story up for anyone that wants to know more.

One of the many reasons Portland is such a beautiful city is a well-planned Urban Forestry program, supported by a strong tree code.  That code is being threatened by amendments which will weaken it.  You can ask the Portland City Council to maintain a strong tree code by sending an e-mail TODAY (3/15/11).

First, a quote from City Hall Watch, by Brad Schmidt of The Oregonian:

"...the Portland City Council last week made a bunch of changes to the proposed tree code. Those changes aren't sitting well with Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. Sallinger sent out a call-to-action e-mail urging folks to contact the Portland City Council, which includes some technical issues."
Now, Sallinger's e-mail:

Thanks to everybody who has written emails or testified in support of
strong tree protections! We are in the homestretch now but Council took
a big step in the wrong direction this afternoon. Please help us
finish-up strong by emailing Council one more time and letting them know
that you want Portland to remain a leader in tree protection!
 Hearing Summary:
This afternoon the Portland City Council voted to move forward a series
of amendments that will significantly weaken the new proposed tree code.

 In considering more than seventeen new amendments, Council voted in
most instances to go with options that reduced proposed protections for
trees. Several amendments which would have strengthened protections were
rejected. The voting at times seemed almost haphazard with no
consideration of the cumulative impacts of these changes or of the
nearly three years of analysis, first by a citizen stakeholder
committee, then by the Planning Commission and Urban Forestry
Commission, that went into arriving at the provisions that were amended.
Despite the large volume of substantive amendments, the City provided
the public with only three working days to review the amendments and
then limited testimony to two minutes per person. There were a few split
votes with Dan Saltzman, Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz raising
environmental concerns, but unfortunately in each of these instances
they were outvoted by their colleagues. The only bright spots this
afternoon were a decision by Commissioner Fritz to withdraw her
amendment which would have eliminated the requirement that a new tree be
planted when nuisance trees are removed and adoption of another proposal
amendment from Commissioner Fritz which restores the significant tree
list. The overriding objective this afternoon seemed to be simplicity.
However, as was eloquently noted by Commissioner Dan Saltzman at the
prior hearing, protecting trees on an urban landscape is a complicated
thing. We respect Council's prerogative to amend the plans that are
brought before it, but today's hearing in our opinion did not do justice
to the nearly three years of work by citizens which preceded it.
 City Council will be accepting additional comments on today's decisions
for another seven days. This will likely be the last chance to comment
on the proposed changes. We need you to write to Council today and let
them know that Portland wants strong protections for its trees. Please submit comments by 5:00 PM on Tuesday, March 15th
amanda@portlandoregon.gov dan@portlandoregon.gov nick@portlandoregon.gov randy@ portlandoregon.gov
sam.adams@portlandoregon.gov We know this these provisions are technical and difficult to understand,
but what they amount to is significant weakening of the proposed
protections for trees on the in our city, especially in our densest and
grayest neighborhoods. Please take a few moments and let council know
that you care about these issues!
 Key Points in order of importance:
1. City Council should eliminate Amendment 2.B.2.B which would
exempt developers from having to preserve or mitigate for trees when
they develop lots up to 5000 square feet: This issue is a matter of both
protecting our environment and ensuring equity in our neighborhoods.
There is plenty of room for trees on lots between 3000 and 5000 square
feet (the planning commission had previously exempted lots up to 3000
square feet) assuming that developers build houses that a size
appropriate for the space available. On those lots that are overbuilt,
developers may pay into a mitigation funds that will allow for planting
of trees elsewhere. Protecting trees on residential lots is essential to
achieving the city's overall canopy objectives. Protecting trees in
development situations is also essential to ensuring that neighborhoods
that absorb infill and increased density retain their trees and the
livability and property value benefits that they provide.
2. City Council should substitute Amendment 3.B.1. for Amendment
: Amendment 3.B.1 would require permits to remove trees over 12
inches diameter on non-dividable single lots in non-development
situations. This would help ensure that large mature neighborhood trees
are either protected or that a new tree is planted when they are
removed. In many neighborhoods. especially in lower income
neighborhoods, there are very few trees that ever get beyond 12 inches
in diameter. Instead council on a 3:2 split vote (Saltzman and Fritz
supported) rejected this proposal and weakened the proposed regulations.
Amendment 3.B.3. which was adopted exempts all properties under 5000
square feet from permits for removal of any trees regardless if size and
requires permits only for trees over 20 inches in diameter for lots
ranging from 5000-10000 square feet. This decision provides the least
protection for trees in our densest and grayest neighborhoods while
protecting trees in neighborhoods with the biggest and greenest lots.
Protection for trees should be equitable across the entire landscape!
3. City Council should eliminate Amendment 2.B.1. which lowers the
number of trees which must be preserved on development sites (those
sites which were not already exempted by Amendment 2.B.2.B. above):
Amendment 2.B.1.: This decision will result in a significant loss of
trees on construction sites. For example a site with 3 trees would now
be required to protect 1 tree rather than 2. A site with 6 trees would
be required to protect 2 trees rather than 3.
4. City council should eliminate Amendment 2D which would prevent a
developer from reducing backyard space in order to protect existing
mature trees in a front yard: Council voted 3-2 (Saltzman and Fish
opposed) to eliminate this flexibility based on the idea that the city
needs to ensure the all residential developments preserve backyard space
for private barbeques and children's swing sets. We disagree-- We see
this provision as exactly the type of flexibility the city needs to
provide in order to integrate the built and natural environments. This
provision would only apply in very limited situations where a mature
tree already exists on a development site. The developer would simply
have the option to protect the tree---it would not be required. While we
appreciate the value of backyards, we believe that their is a market for
larger front yards especially as the city works to activate streetscapes
and reduces restrictions on activities such as gardening in the
right-of-way. It should also be noted that an increasing number of
Portland's residents do not have access to a yard at all---the rigid
adherence to preservation of backyards serves a limited subset of the
population. Preserving front yard trees serves the entire community.
 **There were several other amendments of lesser concern but
these four are our top priority to address. Thank You!

As noted above, today is the last day to get your comments in.  If you'd like to see Portland's high standards of livability protected, send an e-mail (before 5PM today 3/15/11) to amanda@portlandoregon.gov; dan@portlandoregon.gov; nick@portlandoregon.gov; randy@ portlandoregon.gov;

Here's a copy of my e-mail, which you're welcome to use as a template:


I’m writing today because I am concerned about the changes to Portland’s tree code being considered by the Portland City Council.

I urge you to honor the three years of effort put forth by citizens, the Planning Commission, and the Urban Forestry Commission by:
-      eliminating Amendment 2.B.2.B which would exempt developers from having to preserve or mitigate for trees when they develop lots up to 5000 square feet
-      substituting Amendment 3.B.1. for Amendment 3.B.3
-      eliminating Amendment 2.B.1. which lowers the number of trees which must be preserved on development sites
-      eliminating Amendment 2D which would prevent a developer from reducing backyard space in order to protect existing mature trees in a front yard

I believe these changes are absolutely necessary to protect Portland’s livability, and they would help Portland continue to be a leader in tree protection.

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