Street Tree Ordinance

After 7 years of stall tactics a tree ordinance has finally passed. Unfortunately it was by a disappointing 4-3 margin. If good policy was valued over pandering this would have passed 7-0 back in 2004. Three council members voted against this ordinance that will enhance public health and safety, improve the urban environment, and reduce government and homeowner cost.  Not only did we pass the ordinance, but we changed some language that was added to pander to a lobbying group.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages on which the city council had to make their decision. There are many of these so I will update this list as my readers send me the ones I missed.

Advantages:

  1. Reduced Heat Island Effect – Summer temperatures can be reduced by 3-7 degrees which translates to significant energy savings and promotes outdoor activity.
  2. Reduced Taxpayer Expense for Road Maintenance – Shading provides for significantly extend pavement life relative to an unshaded street.  This in and of itself, makes street trees a net tax reducer to the public.
  3. Improve Air Quality – For the best benefit the trees need to be adjacent to the street.  Studies have shown a reduction for harmful pollutants including, Carbon Monoxide, Volatile Organic Compounds, Nitrogen Oxides, and Particulate Matter.  Street trees absorb nine times more pollutants than more distant trees.
  4. Reduce Ozone – Lower street temperatures reduces the creation of harmful ozone A.K.A. smog.
  5. Improved Urban Environment – Besides all the health benefits trees are good for wildlife and reducing the number of automobile trips generated.
  6. Improved Diversity in Urban Forest – Currently Rochester urban forest is dominate by Ash and Maple trees which are susceptible to diseases, by planting a diverse urban forest we will have a more healthy and robust urban forest.
  7. Reduced Asthma Attacks – Data present by Dr. Jay Hoecker indicated that there is an inverse relationship between density of street tree plantings and asthma incidents in a community.
  8. Reduced Energy Consumption – Scientific Study as well as real world events that offered comparisons, that show the full cost of street trees are paid many times over by energy savings.
  9. Improved Aesthetics – Trees are pretty, that’s one reason why people will pay more to live by them.  nuff said…
  10. Reduced Storm Water Runoff – As much as 30% of storm water runoff can be delayed or reduced by an urban forest.  Just ask Zumbro Falls is Storm Water matters…
  11. Reduced Traffic Speeds – The combined calming effects along with the perception of a narrower route will calm traffic and costs far less than police officers.
  12. Improved Walkability – Besides the improved air quality and aesthetics, I can speak first hand about the difference between walking through Kutzky Park and Diamond Ridge on a hot summer day.  Even on the hottest days Kutzky Park’s tree canopy makes for a much cooler environment.
  13. End to poor species selection and planting practices – Currently some people have actually planted Buckthorn in the boulevard, developers have recently planted Ash trees without getting a permit.  Even in treed neighborhoods such as Fox Hill some inappropriate trees have been planted without city forester approval (Autumn Blaze Maples) and other threes have been poorly planted (Lindons too deep).  This will force planting to be done correct.
  14. Higher Home Resale Values – Every Realtor agrees except apparently the one that sits on Planning & Zoning.
  15. Faster Home Sales – See number 14, desirability matters and trees are desirable.
  16. Passive Security – The number one tool for passive security is “eyes on the street.”  Having a desirable walking environment is the easiest cheapest way to achieve this.  Additionally the green infrastructure gives the impression of a well kept area that also tends to deter crime.
  17. Higher Income for Businesses – Business understand the importance of creating a space where people want to be.
  18. Decreased need for Chemical Sun Screens – Shade matters…
  19. Improved Street Operations – Properly position street trees can make important signs stand out more than against a blank backdrop.
  20. Reduced Road Rage – Motorist road rage is less in green urban areas than stark suburban areas.
  21. Reduced Blood Pressure – Kathlene Wolf, Ph.D. present how treed streets reduced blood pressure, improved overall emotional and psychological health.  She also noted a calming effect on ADHD adults and teens.

Disadvantages:

  1. Increased development cost – This will have the effect of slightly increasing cost of land development.  Figures used pointed to $300 – $500 per tree, however real costs are likely to be less than $100 per tree.  As one developer said, “This amounts to $1-$2 more per month on a mortgage with far more in savings.”  It was pointed out and not refuted that total land development costs in Rochester MN are among the lowest in the nation.

The only opposition to the ordinance, as expected, came from the Rochester Area Builders’ paid lobbyist Tony Lehrman. Under questioning Tony was not able to defend any of the points that he made and was eventually rescued from questioning by Council President Dennis Hanson. Still even lacking and scientific basis or policy merits, Bruce Snyder, Ed Hruska, and Dennis Hanson voted against the ordinance.

Dennis Hanson stated that he would have supported the ordinance if the requirement had been to have minimum spacing at 50 feet instead of the recommended 35 feet.

Bruce Snyder did not give a reason for his opposition, but had previously promised the RAB he would oppose it during their candidate forum.  A previous reason that he gave was that the ordinance did not allow for a choice of trees.  The city forester will however grant a list of acceptable options.  We will not allow improper species of trees to be planted, even if the developer or homeowner wants that choice.  Part of the reason that we limit choice is because some trees will destroy sidewalks or are subject to disease.

Ed Hruska also did not comment on his reason for voting against.  Previously he has stated the he opposed the mandate.  We previously had no mandate and the result was less than 25% of new homes were planted and far less than half of those were planted correctly.

This should be the first step of a comprehensive urban forest masterplan.  There are 3 principle concerns of which this will address 1.  The other 2 are a tree preservation ordinance that address the clear cutting that is typically done in new developments and a strategy to properly plant the existing city areas.

Your comments are welcome…

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