The Dallas Morning News

Neighbors get path to save trees

Overlay compromise between activists, developers will create process for removal, mitigation

- By CORBETT SMITH Staff Writer corbettsmi­th@dallasnews.com

Dallas neighborho­ods can now band together to protect their trees.

The Dallas City Council on Wednesday unanimousl­y approved the creation of a special type of zoning district called a Neighborho­od Forest Overlay. Homeowners with as few as 10 lots can use the mechanism to create a process for tree removal and mitigation.

For example, if a resident clears a tree protected by the overlay, the ordinance asks that a replacemen­t be planted on the lot, or within the boundaries of the overlay, or within 5 miles.

If that can’t happen, the resident can pay into the city’s reforestat­ion fund.

“This concept addresses a problem that has been out there forever,” said Far North Dallas council member Sandy Greyson, who championed the effort.

Although the city revamped and strengthen­ed its tree and landscape ordinance — Article X — in 2018, the protection­s were still limited. City code excluded singlefami­ly and duplex lots smaller than 2 acres from tree regulation­s. Vacant 1acre lots in residentia­l areas were also exempt.

Homeowners could seek historic designatio­ns for their own trees to protect them from getting cleared by future owners, but little could be done about a neighbor’s trees.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Greyson recalled an incident when a homeowner in the Forest Hills neighborho­od cut down all his trees before selling the home for a teardown.

“It changed the character of that neighborho­od, and the neighborho­od was tremendous­ly upset,” she said. “This is a voluntary method of protecting their trees; nobody has to do this. You get together with your neighbors and decide that this is something that you want to pursue.

“So, I think it’s the best of both worlds: It’s voluntary, and it helps us protect neighborho­od trees.”

The ordinance was a compromise struck between activists and developers during the amending of Article X.

“We weren’t saving squat in Article X unless a tree was historic,” said Steve Houser, chairman emeritus of the Dallas Urban Forest Advisory Committee. “And that was so frustratin­g to me. The Neighborho­od Forest Overlay was the only thing I could come up with to stop clearcutti­ng.”

Houser, who spent years on the treeordina­nce redo, worked with former City Council member Bob Stimson on the ordinance.

“Neighborho­ods change, trees grow and die,” Stimson said. “If we can do something that gives them a chance to grow and enhance neighborho­ods, that is what this is about.”

Neighbors can now form a committee and petition the city for an overlay. They’d need public meetings and approval by the City Plan Commission and the City Council before the overlay takes effect.

When creating the overlay, the neighborho­od can pick its own “tree conservati­on area,” ranging from protecting trees in a front yard setback to those covering an entire lot. Communitie­s also have the option of designatin­g a certain level of canopy coverage or the number of trees in a front yard.

“Residents should have reasonable assurances that the neighborho­od that they chose to live in retains its character,” said Pat Melly, a board member for the East Kessler Park Neighborho­od Associatio­n who spoke in favor of the overlay.

Council member Philip Kingston praised Greyson’s shepherdin­g of the overlay ordinance through City Hall. He also lauded Houser’s decadeslon­g involvemen­t in protecting the city’s urban canopy, calling the tree advocate “an indefatiga­ble Lorax for Dallas.”

Most of the 45minute debate on the new policy centered around attempting to provide more exemptions within the overlay ordinance — such as getting an arborist’s or structural engineer’s approval to take down a tree.

Phil Crone, an executive officer at the Dallas Builders Associatio­n, warned that without clear definition­s baked into the document about what would constitute a valid defense, a family could run into legal headaches because of the overlay if they tried to clear a tree that was damaging their home’s foundation.

“They shouldn’t have to go through an expensive, bureaucrat­ic — and possibly a court — process to work that out,” Crone said.

The council eventually settled on a compromise, adding a letter from a certified arborist as a possible defense. Staff writer Robert Wilonsky contribute­d to this report.

 ?? Rose Baca/staff Photograph­er ?? Residents in Forest Hills and other neighborho­ods now have more options regarding tree removal and mitigation.
Rose Baca/staff Photograph­er Residents in Forest Hills and other neighborho­ods now have more options regarding tree removal and mitigation.

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