The city of Delaware will take a closer look at its tree preservation regulations by comparing them with other similar communities.
The Building Industry Association of Central Ohio has concerns about an update to codified ordinance section 11680.07, which clarifies that tree bank funds can be used for planting street trees. Developers can make a payment in lieu of replanting trees to the fund. But the BIA had concerns about codifying a change that would not allow the replacement fee to drop below $100 per caliper inch.
Jim Hilz, the BIA’s executive director, sought clarification at City Council’s meeting on Monday on whether the variance process now in place would apply to the situations related to the fee.
“The purpose of asking that is to provide some level of predictability for the property owner and a potential developer,” he said. “… So they don’t get into the process of going down the road to trying to figure out whether or not they can develop it; but know upfront with some predictability whether or not it is a viable option for that particular of piece property.”
Hilz provided an example from 2006 when the city had a tree-for-tree replacement policy with a flat rate at $250. During that year, a developer paid $283,000 to replant 623 trees and to pay in lieu of replanting for for an additional 509 trees. But based on the current rate the developer would have paid about $2.7 million based on 27,000 caliper inches of that development, Hilz said.
“There might be a legal issue there in terms of that significant costs applying for that policy in terms of what the land may actually be worth,” Hilz said.
Due to a personal emergency, Planning Director Dave Efland left the meeting before Council could address the proposed update. City Attorney Darren Shulman said the variance procedure by going before the Board of Zoning Appeals was applicable to such situations based on information Efland sent to him electronically at the meeting.
“I think that would cover the: I’ve got a lot and it’s got a … million dollars in trees but the lot itself isn’t worth that so I think that variance process” would apply, Shulman said.
He added that developers can get a variance through the planned development process during the discussion phase with the city.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller expressed concern about any adjustments to the variance process.
“Our tree policy exists to try to preserve as much of these heavily-tree areas as we can,” she said. “I like to keep it that way.”
But Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said it’s worth comparing the current policy to other communities to ensure that laws are fair and clear.
“The question I think is there an alternative way of resolving those issues and we can certainly follow up and get back to you on it,” City Manager Tom Homan said.
Hilz said it’s already collecting information about the practices of other cities and was willing to provide that information to the city.
Shade Tree Commission Chairman Paul Olen said his group will look at any variance closely. He appreciated it when Keller asked that a Shade Tree member is part of the discussions between the BIA and the city about the regulations.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.