By Jeffrey Pieters
Rochester, MN (November 28, 2008)- Should Rochester developers be required to pay to plant street-side trees in new neighborhoods? It’s the question at the heart of talks- ongoing for two years- whether to enact an ordinance including that requirement. Owatonna and Kasson are two nearby cities that have similar ordinances.
City officials point to 29,000 vacant planting spaces in Rochester as evidence that leaving planting voluntary hasn’t been working. “We know that boulevard trees are not being planted, generally speaking,” said John Harford of the city’s planning department.
The ordinance would collect money from developers for trees. The city would hire a contractor to plant them and care for them for a year.
Developers, represented by the Rochester Area Builders organization, list a number of objections to the proposal. Among them:
* That developers and builders voluntarily plant more trees than alleged.
* That the proposed ordinance inflexibly requires trees be planted every 35 feet street-side when sometimes other locations on a property would be better.
* That in a tough economy, a requirement adding potentially $500 to the cost of a new house could hurt the building industry.
“The timing is bad,” said Mike Paradise of Bigelow Homes, who has been involved in the ordinance discussions.
“I’m concerned about the health of the construction industry,” he said. “I don’t think any ordinance that’s going to add to the cost of construction is going help us out.”
Paradise is concerned that opposing the ordinance might tag him and other developers as being “anti-tree.” “I love trees,” he said. “As a matter of fact, if you drive by our office, we have more landscaping than anybody else in the area.” Several of Bigelow’s recent neighborhoods were developed with covenants requiring homebuyers to landscape their properties, Paradise said. In Harvestview, a northwest neighborhood, special zoning regulations proposed by the developer included a requirement for street-side trees. “I think trees add a lot of value to the property and the subdivision,” Paradise said. “Not just trees- it’s the whole landscaping package.”
Not every developer, though, has such an ardor for arbor. In lieu of an ordinance, some bad tree-planting decisions are being made, said city forester Jacob Ryg. In one new neighborhood, Ryg said, the developer planted all ash trees. Not only is it unwise to plant a single species across an area because of the risk they could be lost to a single outbreak of disease, but ash trees already are on the verge of being decimated by an insect parasite eating its way here from the east.
Ryg agrees with developers that the ordinance as drawn is “woefully inadequate” in requiring tree replacement in existing neighborhoods. Properties in those areas would be subject to the tree-planting requirement only when they carry out renovations worth $15,000 or more.
Generally speaking, comprehensive tree-planting in older neighborhoods is carried out only by philanthropic efforts, such as the NeighborWoods program, which will plant 500 trees next year. But even that only manages to keep the current deficit from widening. The city cuts down 400 to 800 trees per year for reasons such as damage or disease, Ryg said.
Trees, whether street-side or in a yard, are “the only thing the city can buy that routinely increases in value,” Ryg said. Trees help lower home heating and cooling costs and clean the air. Ryg said he hopes the city does more than just pass an ordinance. Educating developers and residents about tree-planting and care is important, too, he said. Also, the city needs to develop a master plan to replace lost trees, he said.
The Rochester Park Board heard a presentation this month about the ordinance but didn’t decide anything. The Rochester Committee on Urban Design and Environment long ago endorsed the ordinance and reiterated its support in a letter to the mayor and city council this week. A decision on the ordinance is, at best, several months away.
By the numbers (Source: Rochester Forestry Division):
98,475: Capacity for trees in Rochester boulevards29,088: The number of spaces that are empty as of Nov. 21.
Post-Bulletin- Rochester officials consider tree-planting ordinance