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Environmental Commission Looks To Update Township Tree Ordinance

Environmental Commissioner Arnold Schmidt said it’s time the township charged developers the actual cost of replacing trees they remove for projects.

Developers have been getting off easy for too long when it comes to paying to replace trees they remove for building projects, and something needs to be done about it.

So says the township’s Environmental Commission, which moved on October 17 to request township officials bring the cost per tree charged to developers more in line with what they actually cost.

The issue revolves around what the township’s tree ordinance requires builders to pay to replace trees they have removed from a parcel when they cannot replace them with an equal number of trees.

The so-called tree replacement fee is about $30, and hasn’t been updated in a while, said Commissioner Arnold Schmidt. Schmidt said he was told of the current fee by Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner.

Schmidt noted that $30 a tree is far less than what the township pays for them.

Trees can be purchased with their root balls wrapped in burlap, or with their roots hanging free. “Balled and burlapped” trees, as they are called, are more expensive then their unwrapped counterparts.

“When the township buys trees, my understanding, they buy the balled and burlapped,” Schmidt said. “When developers buy trees for their developments, they buy balled and burlapped.”

Schmidt said a bare root tree can cost between $20 to $50 for a small tree, while the balled and burlapped trees go for between $250 and $300.

“So the number that they have now is $30 per tree, but they’re costing, it appears, 10 times that much, not including labor,” Schmidt said. “How long has this been going on for? We don’t know. Mark’s comment was it has not been updated recently.”

“The ordinance says the township engineer is supposed to update the ordinance annually,” he said.

“If developers have been paying $30 a tree when they should have been paying $300 a tree, we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars if not hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “There’s approximately $300,000 in the tree fund right now, if these numbers are correct, there should be twice or three times that number in there.”

Schmidt said bringing the tree replacement fee more in line with what trees actually cost could make a difference in larger proposed developments.

“When a developer says I’m going to knock down 500 trees and I’m going to have to pay $30, that’s a cost of doing business,” he said. “But now if I have to pay $300 a tree, then it’s maybe I don’t knock down all those trees.”

Commissioner Robin Suydam suggested that the Commission take a two-step approach in approaching the township with its concerns.

First, she said, the Commission should suggest that the current tree replacement fee be brought up to the actual cost of trees.

Second, she said, the Commission should recommend changes to the tree ordinance that “reflect either incentives or obligations to keep trees in place.”

“I think we can modify the ordinance by going back to the township with data about the tree canopy,” she said.

Suydam said that re-instituting a percentage threshold on how many tress can be removed from a parcel “would be a reaffirmation that trees are a vital part of our township infrastructure.”

At the suggestion of Tara Kenyon, the township’s open space consultant, the Commission created a working group to study possible changes to the tree ordinance.

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