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Energy & Environment

City Council To Vote On Tree Ordinance Changes Amid Canopy Concerns

The tree ordinance changes would affect tree placement in most of uptown Charlotte
WFAE
The tree ordinance changes would affect tree placement in most of uptown Charlotte.

Charlotte City Council members will decide Monday night whether to change rules for how developers can place trees in the city’s most urban areas. City planners say the proposed change is small, but some citizens are concerned that it doesn’t do enough to meet Charlotte’s tree canopy goals.

The changes would only apply to trees in places the city considers “urban zones”: most of uptown, plus sections of Dilworth, Elizabeth, and Plaza Midwood. These areas represent less than 4% of the city. In the future, the changes would also affect land near the Blue Line light rail corridor.

The changes would clarify how developers should plant trees near street corners and in parking lots. And developers would still have to set aside 15% of land for trees – called a “tree save area.” But they would have more flexibility to meet those requirements while including features like park benches and walkways in these urban zones.

Landscape architect Matt Langston advised the city on the changes. He says developers welcome them. "So one of the things that I think both developers and designers, as well as urban foresters are excited about, is the ability to interweave open space, tree save, and benches, pathways, and things like that, so people can enjoy the tree canopy that’s getting preserved," Langston said.

A 2016 survey found that trees covered 47% of Charlotte. The city now has a goal of 50% coverage by the year 2050. Environmental groups have voiced concerns that the ordinance changes wouldn’t grow the city’s tree canopy.

Chuck Cole, executive director of the group Trees Charlotte, explains the criticism. "I really think that it all boils down to people expecting these ordinances to actually improve the canopy," Cole said. "Whereas, what they ended up getting was that it really did not do that."

Cole is concerned that tree planting isn’t keeping up with Charlotte’s rapid development. The city's Deputy Planning Director Alyson Craig emphasizes these changes for urban zones would result in no net loss of required trees. She also says the Planning Department will update the ordinance over the next two years with the aim of increasing the number of trees in the city.

The city council’s vote on the tree ordinance change will take place at its zoning meeting on Monday Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public. See the agenda here