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Charlotte Area

City Council To Talk Trees Tonight

Charlotte is known for its trees and the tonight the City Council will debate an ordinance to keep it that way. In the last 25 years, half of Charlotte's tree canopy has disappeared. The goal of the new ordinance is not just to save trees, but to replace them, too. Among other things, it requires commercial builders to preserve 15 percent of the trees on land they develop and plant trees every 40 feet in a parking lot. But the ordinance also has an escape clause: If saving the trees on a piece of land would be too expensive, a builder can opt to pay a fee instead and the city will plant trees somewhere else. That fee is likely to be the most hotly debated part of the ordinance tonight. Here's where the Central Piedmont Sierra Club comes down: "We want to make sure that (the fee) is a substantial investment by a developer so it just doesn't become a cost of doing business - a small fee that makes cutting down the trees an attractive alternative," says the Sierra Club's Bill Gupton. He would like a fee in the range of $80,000 an acre That's "far too high" in the eyes of Charlotte's Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, says director Andy Munn. Munn says $40,000 is more like it, and more than enough to replace trees that get bull-dozed. "You could 'tree' a whole lot of the city - and I'm using 'tree' as a verb - you could tree a whole lot of the city at $40,000 an acre at planting the most beneficial trees that are available," says Munn. The "fee in lieu of" abiding by the tree ordinance is really the last big sticking point. After several years of negotiation, builders and environmental groups managed to agree on the majority of restrictions in the ordinance. Charlotte City Council members are scheduled to vote on the tree ordinance tonight during their regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Government Center.