City explores tree preservation and wetland ordinances

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 28, 2015

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At the repeated request of the Troy Planning Commission, Troy city staff will begin to explore options for regulating how developers cut down trees and alter unregulated wetlands.

John Taylor, a resident on Forsythe, spoke to the City Council April 20 about the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval April 14 of a preliminary site plan for Pinery Woods, at Wattles and John R. The development will feature 25 detached condos on 8.8 acres of land. Over 400 trees will be cut down on the site, which is also home to an unregulated wetland.

“Maybe it’s time for us as a city to prepare for the future,” Taylor said. “We need to protect more green areas of the city. We’re losing a lot of green space.”

“I know many of us on council share the frustration, as does city administration, with the legal issues. We’re prohibited from doing so,” Mayor Dane Slater said of disallowing site plans that meet all ordinances. “Now that Troy is almost built out, we’re just seeing small developments. This is a common theme that we’re hearing now because we are just doing small plots that are remaining. I think it’s time that we notify all residents that could be affected. I know this council wants to revisit the tree ordinance.”

He added that the city has good relationships with most developers.

“The law says if the developer meets all the requirements of the ordinance, we have no choice but to approve this development,” Planning Commissioner Michael Hutson said at the April 14 commission meeting. “We have asked for a tree ordinance for years and not gotten it. It’s disheartening.

“The developer has paid a lot of money for the site. It’s his property, and we can’t tell him any more what do with that than the law requires … any more than one of your neighbors could come in and say they want to cut down a couple of your trees because it obstructs the sunset.”

At that meeting, Nathan Robinson, of Horizon Engineering, spokesman for Mondrian Properties, the developer for Pinery Woods, said that open space and cluster development options that the Planning Commission suggested were discussed and “thought about long enough to know it doesn’t apply.”

The cluster development option allows the developer higher density in exchange for more open space.

“The Planning Commission has final authority for any preliminary site plan review,” Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm told the council at the April 20 meeting. “The one thing that guides the Planning Commission is if it meets all ordinances or plans and regulations, the Planning Commission is required to approve it. So there really is not a whole lot of discretion if the plan that is submitted satisfies the city of Troy’s ordinances.”

She added that a couple of planning commissioners have expressed an interest in revisiting a tree preservation and wetland ordinance. 

The Planning Commission passed a resolution March 24 to have city staff explore developing a tree and wetlands ordinance for new developments.

Mark Miller, the city’s director of economic and community development, said city staff has started putting together a report on potential options for a tree preservation and wetlands ordinance.

“If we move forward in this arena, four or five ordinances would potentially be impacted,” he said. 

“This is talked about all the time internally,” said Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick. “It impacts staff almost every time.”

“I applaud the Planning Commission for asking for that,” Slater said. “I think it’s well overdue.”

Councilman Dave Henderson said the “difficult properties” left to be developed sometimes interfere with neighbors’ lots and subdivisions.

“Complete areas are transformed. These are parcels that are sold off. If they can’t maximize their profit potential, it makes them an unsalable piece of property,” said Henderson. “I think we need to be cautious with any kind of tree ordinance that we have to toe the line about how it’s going to allow property to be sold and developed, and yet preserve some of the aesthetics of the area as well.”

Miller said the report would lay out the different ways and means of doing this.

“It just doesn’t mean saving trees,” said Miller “You could require the developers to provide other trees in other locations. We’ll lay out all those options for the Planning Commission, the public and the City Council.”

“Part of the reason this tree ordinance died a somewhat slow death before is because there’s a fine line between what you tell a developer, and it bleeds over to the demands that you have on people that own their own property,” Slater said. “You have to be careful about what you do.”

“The Planning Commission does want to strike a balance allowing residential development and being environmentally responsible,” said City Planner Brent Savidant. “The intent is not to be heavy-handed.”

The Planning Commission planned to begin a discussion on woodland protection at the April 28 meeting, after press time.

“It’s the first step to determine what direction to take,” Savidant said.

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