The Delaware Shade Tree Commission acknowledged residents’ concerns Tuesday night about the tree clearing at the Coughlin’s Crossing development site.
The developer, Delaware Development Plan LTD, started the tree clearing in order to meet a March 31 deadline set by federal regulators.
“In the eyes of many residents, the city has failed when it allowed the clear cutting of Coughlin’s Crossing,” Commission member Tom Wolber said.
City Council approved the rezoning and preliminary development plans for Coughlin’s Crossing in December.
Records show the developer is responsible for replacing 50 percent of the trees in fair condition and all trees in good condition. Trees in poor condition or Ash trees would not need to be replaced. The city’s tree replacement requirements are based upon caliper inches, or the diameter of the tree at breast height.
The commission approved the initial tree replacement plan that provided the total amount of trees and caliper inches removed from the site. Before the clearing, there were 1,776 trees at the site, or 22,657 caliper inches, with 939 trees, 12,199 caliper inches, removed and 837 trees, 10,458 caliper inches, remaining.
The numbers demonstrate the developer cares, said City Arborist Doug Richmond, who doesn’t like to see trees taken down.
“I’m not promoting them or anything else,” he said, “[but] there’s a lot of trees that probably could have been graded as fair or in poor condition, but rated as good condition … to our benefit.”
“I think a lot of reaction is people drive along (US) 23 and they see the big spruce trees that came down and it’s almost like when we prune streets that have never been pruned before,” Richmond said.
Commission Chairman Paul Olen agreed. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said.
The city’s Planning Department determined the difference in caliper inches from trees removed and permanently preserved at 4,072. The developer is responsible to replace or pay in lieu at $100 per caliper inch for a total $407,200.
The developer is expected to pay $100,000 of that cost with the first approved final development plan and infrastructure. The remaining balance is expected to be paid on a per-acre basis as the site develops at $4,521 per acre.
“It’s a lot of money for the tree bank fund,” Wolber said.
In other business, the commission received clarification on how many of its members can vote. The commission has nine members plus a council member to serve as liaison with City Council.
The city council clerk “pointed out to me that 10 ‘members’ are voting, with the 10th member being the council liaison,” City Attorney Darren Shulman said in a memo to the city manager and parks and natural resources director. “… However, now that we have a full complement of nine members, the council representative should not be voting.”
Councilman George Hellinger is the current council member on the commission. He requested on Monday that Council will consider legislation to remove the presence of a council member at the meetings since the group is more of an advisory board. He did not attend the commission’s Tuesday meeting.
Olen said it was helpful to have a council member to assist with any procedural or legal process queries.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.