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New ordinance could preserve trees

Measure could restrict homeowners, some fear, but city says it’s aimed at developers

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 31, 2012

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — In the coming months, the Bloomfield Hills City Commission may enact an ordinance that will restrict the number of trees that can be cut down on properties in the city. The idea is to keep the city’s tree canopy lush and beautiful, though some feel it comes at too great a price.

According to City Manager Jay Cravens, the ordinance is a response to comments the city received in the Master Plan survey conducted in 2008. Cravens said that residents indicated they had an interest in promoting environmental issues and green initiatives, and they had concerns about preserving the tree canopy of Bloomfield Hills. He added that the city looked to similar ordinances in surrounding communities when developing theirs, including Bloomfield Township, West Bloomfield and Rochester Hills.

In short, the ordinance dictates that property owners on one-acre lots or smaller will not be allowed to remove more than three trees within a two-year period, and not more than six trees can be removed from lots larger than one acre. There are a number of exceptions to the ordinance, including diseased and damaged trees or trees within 15 feet of a home, but all other trees that are to be removed require a permit and review before the work is completed.

Bloomfield Hills resident Michael Dul said while he loves the idea of nature preservation and an ordinance that supports it, he thinks this particular measure goes too far for the everyday homeowner.

“Under the banner of preserving the environment, they have to punish the masses. I just think it’s too restrictive; three trees in two years or less, if you have an acre or less. I think it should be loosened up a bit,” said Dul.

He said that as the ordinance is written now, property owners would have to spend a lot of time and money to take out trees that don’t fall within the specified exceptions list. He said that property owners would have to apply for a permit, make an appointment for the city inspector to review the site, and have a sketch prepared of the property and the tree to be removed, as well as any landmark trees surrounding it. Landmark trees are specific species of trees, as listed in the ordinance, or any tree whose trunk is 24 inches or greater in diameter.

Dul said that in addition to application and administrative fees associated with the permit, the property owner must guarantee that the work, such as landscaping or building, would be done upon removal of the trees in question. That would require a property owner to provide the city with a letter of credit, cash escrow or certified check for 1 1/2 times the amount of the expected cost of the project. When the work is completed, the funds would be released back to the property owner.

He’s also concerned about the replacement policy of the ordinance, which requires, under certain circumstances, that the property owner replace trees that are removed, and in some cases replace the trees with double the amount removed.

Cravens said the ordinance is really aimed at developers coming into the area looking to do mass removals and clear cutting, and shouldn’t affect homeowners much.

“We’ve had a few incidents where we’ve had significant cutting of trees in preparation of a (residential) property. There are times when a buyer buys a wooded lot when they should’ve looked for an open lot to begin with,” he said. “It’s three trees within two years for under an acre. I think this ordinance, quite frankly, isn’t going to be affecting a substantial portion of our residents in the general maintenance of their property.”

Dul disagrees, and said he’d like the restrictions to be loosened. He said that, as a practicing landscape architect for 39 years, the ordinance could potentially hurt his business, but he said his concerns are just those of a longtime Bloomfield Hills resident who thinks the city already imposes substantial fees on its residents.

“Bloomfield Hills is known for having pretty expensive fees, say to build a deck or something. I, myself, feel as a landscape architect and a Bloomfield Hills resident that we could really accomplish the goals of the ordinance without punishing the community’s property owners.”

The ordinance will be discussed for a second time in a public forum at the Planning Commission meeting set for Feb. 14, which Dul plans to attend. Since the Planning Commission is an advisory board, the proposed ordinance would still have to go to the City Commission for approval before it’s put into effect, which Cravens estimates wouldn’t happen any sooner than March.

He added that while he hasn’t heard many complaints about the ordinance as of yet, he can understand residents’ concerns.

“It deals with property rights. People are thinking, ‘Hey, it’s my property. I take care of my property, why is government getting involved?’ And I respect those concerns, but there are also concerns of the community about the beauty of the area. That seemed to be indicated in the master plan surveys.”