Proposed City Ordinance Would Require Permits For Cutting Down Large Trees
Careful with that ax
By Jon Campbell
December 21, 2010
The Hartford City Council is considering an ordinance that would require local property owners to obtain a permit before they remove large trees growing on their land. The tree law would also mandate better reporting and monitoring of the city’s remaining “urban forest.” The measure found mixed support at city hall on Dec. 13, as members voiced concern about property rights and the prospect of adding to the city’s employment rolls. A vote was ultimately deferred so that a compromise can be reached on tree-removal procedures.
The proposed ordinance would require a permit for removal of any tree measuring over 13 inches in diameter at chest height. Property owners with an itchy chainsaw finger would have to apply to the city’s forester — a position that does not yet exist — for permission to remove trees that they find objectionable, and pay a $10 fee for processing. The ordinance contains no information about the forester’s salary, though several council members raised the question of how to pay for a new staff member with a difficult budget situation. The forester could deny permits, but the ordinance also includes an appeal process for landowners. The ordinance would also mandate an annual process for cataloging and monitoring the health of the city’s trees.
A study completed in 2007 found about 450,000 trees in Hartford, enough to cover 26 percent of the city’s landmass. The study says the trees collectively remove about 2400 tons of carbon and 73 tons of other pollutants every year, including 37 tons of particulate matter — the type of pollution associated particularly with asthma.
Council member Luis Cotto spoke in favor of the measure, saying residents’ health is one good reason to support it.
“This is done for the benefit of the city and the city’s residents. We have the second highest asthma rate in the nation. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a reason that can be alleviated in two years, but this is a very good start,” says Cotto. Cotto also said the city’s trees were an important source of shade that helps reduce cooling costs and energy usage.
Councilmember Larry Deutsch also spoke in favor of the measure, saying the health of the city’s trees impacts all residents, whether they’re on private property or not, and likening the restrictions on tree-removal to those on illegal dumping.
Council President rJo Winch said she supported the ordinance’s goals and much of its content, but worried that the new rules for tree removal placed too many restrictions on property owners.
“The thing that causes people the most agita is the tree-removal process … It’s not about the cost. It’s about ‘this tree is on my property, and I should determine what I do with it’” says Winch.
Councilman Calixto Torres said he thought the idea of restricting tree removal on private property was inappropriate.
“It’s well intended … but I think there’s a point where we have to stop becoming Big Brother to our residents and our taxpayers,” says Torres.
Christopher Donnelly, a forester with the Connecticut Bureau of Forestry, says Hartford’s urban canopy is smaller than that of other cities in the state. He said that statewide, cities and towns have an average tree coverage in the low thirty percent range, with Hartford at 26 percent. By contrast, about 38 percent of New Haven’s land area is covered in trees. He says Hartford’s ordinance would be “groundbreaking” for the state if enacted, but the idea is not an unusual one in other parts of the country. He says communities in Westchester County and Long Island, New York had enacted similar plans, and said the ordinances are even more commonplace in the South.
Donnelly says elements of the measure — like the creation of a city forester position and a dedicated tree-maintenance fund — would be worthwhile, even if parts of the ordinance were excised.
“I realize that the private property is the controversial part of it, but there is a lot of very good stuff in that ordinance,” says Donnelly. “It would still be a very forward-looking and beneficial ordinance” even without the restrictions on removal.