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Time to trim landmark tree ordinance

Ordinances designed to protect a community's natural tree canopy and save healthy trees from destruction in the name of progress should be commended and adhered to by local governing boards. However, it may be time for Rochester to revisit its landmark tree ordinance in order to ensure it is practical and appropriate.

Rochester has several ordinances regarding the removal of trees that are designed to maintain a natural tree canopy and provide a healthy, sustainable urban forestry program. Under those ordinances, before any regulated trees with a diameter of seven inches or greater are removed from public or private property, the city must be notified and consulted. In general, residents are permitted to remove three qualifying trees per year, provided they acquire a permit from the city, which may be obtained for free.

All trees in the city that are greater than 24 inches or of a greater and specific species that meet smaller size requirements may be protected under the city's landmark tree ordinance designation. Once a tree receives the designation, it may only be removed if city council grants an exception, or variance, to the ordinance.

To date, no city council has permitted removal of any landmark tree – a track record that should be a point of pride. However, a discussion on Monday, August 13, about trimming the city's landmark tree ordinance may have some merit.

The discussion stemmed from a resident's request to remove a 150-year-old silver maple tree from their property. Rochester Deputy City Manager Nik Banda, a professional forester, assessed the tree and recommended it not be removed, based on its protected status under the city's ordinance. However, several council members questioned whether silver maples and some other potentially problematic tree species should be included in the ordinance.

Silver maple trees are one of several species that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lists as "trees not recommended for planting," under its urban and community forestry program. Trees listed are done so primarily for tree health or nuisance reasons. Silver maples have weaker wood that is susceptible to storm damage and have invasive roots that may cause problems for sewers, structure and the tree itself. Others species are prone to major insect damage, diseases or other issues.

While the city's current landmark tree ordinance doesn't exempt any trees by species, the city and council would be wise to utilize Banda's expert knowledge in determining whether such removals are necessary, and look at the pros and cons of potential changes. It's best for the city to be as well-prepared as possible as residents, and future residents, look to maximize their property.

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