Berliner: Council hearing on tree bills wasn’t stacked -- Gazette.Net







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The County Council is considering two very different bills that seek to protect trees — a bill that is limited to protecting trees in our own county rights of way (sponsored by myself and Councilmember Elrich) and legislation drafted by the County Executive that protects our tree canopy more broadly.

Trees stir passions like few issues, and there is room for reasoned and reasonable debate in such an environment. Regrettably, Michael Hancock’s letter (“Tree bills invasive to property rights,” Jan. 23) did not advance that discourse. He was wrong on the facts and extremely uncivil in tone.

First, Mr. Hancock alleges that the hearing was “stacked” in favor of proponents of these measures. Wrong. Everyone who signed up to testify was given an opportunity. That there were more supporters than opponents is hardly a conspiracy hatched by the council. In fact, we went the other way: As the presiding officer, I made sure that every panel had at least one known opponent of the measures so that there could be as much balance as the witness list allowed.

Mr. Hancock then calls me out in particular for having occasional side conversations with my colleagues during the two plus hours of testimony. I regret those exchanges appeared to him to be dismissive of opponents. The record, however, reflects just the opposite. The executive director of the building industry, the main opponents of both measures (and the industry that employs Mr. Hancock) expressed the industry’s sincere gratitude for the many hours I’ve spent meeting with them on my legislation and the numerous amendments I have accepted in response to their legitimate concerns.

Finally, Mr. Hancock conflates the two bills and discusses their effect on private property as though they were equal. My bill deals solely with our county’s rights of way, which we have an obligation to protect. It is not intended to affect private property at all. It is true the County Executive’s bill has broader effects, and we will be working hard to find the best approach to reconcile the need to protect our trees and private property rights.

Roger Berliner, Bethesda

The writer is a member of the Montgomery County Council and chairs its Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee.