Residents, groups bark about Montgomery County tree bills -- Gazette.Net


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Few residents or organization representatives who testified Thursday felt that, as written, two proposed Montgomery County tree-protection bills made the cut.

Many of the 32 who testified at the Transportation, Infrastructure Energy and Environment Committee hearing indicated their support for the bills, but most wanted one or both amended.

Bill 35-12 would protect and grow the county’s tree canopy. It establishes a process for gaining permission to disturb the canopy, including a fee that has yet to be determined.

Bill 41-12 would protect street trees by requiring a separate permit for work involving trees in the county’s right of way.

Utilities, including Pepco, would not be subject to either bill.

Some who testified questioned the necessity of the street tree bill.

Councilman Roger Berliner said it is almost a mirror of the state’s regulation.

Montgomery can adopt a local law for trees in its right of way. The bill would take the effort of enforcing street tree regulations out of the already strapped hands of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and put it in the county’s, said Berliner (D-Dist 1) of Bethesda, who chairs the T&E committee.

Yet, a few who testified were concerned that the bill could mean another cost and more red tape for builders.

Montgomery estimates the new law would even cost its own Department of General Services from $2,000 to $12,000 more per county project.

“There is a disconnect,” Robert Kaufman, government affairs director of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, said of the council’s and the industry’s thinking. He said he didn’t think there was a problem that needed to be fixed through a new law.

More people wanted the tree canopy bill changed.

“This bill needs work,” Ginny Barnes of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association said.

One man asked if residents who do something as minor as build a patio under their trees would have to pay a canopy fee. He wondered if he was reading the bill correctly.

Representatives of conservation and environmental organizations — including Conservation Montgomery, the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Montgomery County Countryside Alliance — told the committee that citizens were drafting amendments for consideration at the scheduled Jan. 28 work session.

Mark Pfefferle, forest conservation manager for the Montgomery Planning Department, asked that the county Parks Department be exempt from the bill, a sentiment repeated by residents.

Other requests were to set a county canopy goal, credit those who mitigate canopy loss or replace trees on-site, and have a clearly set fee.

Wade Butler of the Montgomery Soil Conservation District and Linda Lewis of Lewis Orchards asked for agricultural considerations in both bills.

kalexander@gazette.net