Shade Tree Commission To Council: Don’t Allow Public Money For Private Trees

JUST SAY NO – Shade Tree Commission member Arnold Schmidt led his fellow Commissioners in sending a letter to the Township Council opposing a proposed deal that would allow public money to be spent on planting trees on private property.

The Township Shade Tree Committee voted at its last meeting to tell the Township Council it opposes a proposed deal that would allow public money to be used to buy trees targeted for the Canal Walk housing development.

The deal was described in an April 21 letter, written by an attorney representing the Canal Walk Homeowners’ Association, which includes a laundry list of proposed mitigation efforts to shield Canal Walk residents from two warehouses – known colloquially as the B9 project – planned to be built across Mettlers Road from the development.

One of those mitigation efforts entails using more than $89,000 that the developer of the proposed warehouses would be required to donate to the Township’s Shade Tree Trust Fund to plant trees on Canal Walk property. The donation to the Shade Tree Trust Fund is required when a developer’s project requires the clearing of trees and there is no opportunity to replace those trees elsewhere on the subject property.

The attorney, Howard Cohen, says in the letter that the mitigation efforts have been approved by the B9 developer and the Canal Walk HOA board, and that the tree fund proposal would be brought to the Township Council by Economic Development Director Vince Dominach for its approval.

But Shade Tree Commission member Arnold Schmidt, who brought the letter to the Commission’s attention at its May 25 meeting, said that Township ordinance prohibits the use of Tree Fund money to plant trees on private property.

“That goes directly against the tree ordinance,” Schmidt said, adding that it would set a bad precedent.

“If B9 wants to plant trees on Canal Walk property using their own money, and Canal Walk agrees,” they’re free to do that, he said.

Schmidt presented a draft letter opposing the deal from the Commission to the Council for the Commission’s approval.

“What I’m looking for us to say is, we want to nip this in the bud,” he said. “We want them to know … that we are against this because this would set precedent where they’re taking public money from the shade tree trust fund and using it on private property.”

But Dominach said the issue isn’t as cut-and-dried as Schmidt asserted.

He said there is a way that the Council could allow the money to be used to the proposed purpose.

“What that would require is a developer’s agreement that the Township Council would have to approve,” Dominach said. “We just can’t take money from a fund … (but) we can as part of a developer’s agreement say, whatever amount was supposed to have been spent on the trees when we come to the number, we could say that that money can go towards the planting of trees someplace else.”

The money, he said, is “only required to go into the tree fund unless Council has a developer’s agreement that changes that. It happens millions of times.”

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