Bill to protect county’s trees heads for council approval -- Gazette.Net







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This story was corrected at 12:15 p.m. on July 16, 2013. An explanation follows the story.

Members of a county committee working on a tree canopy conservation bill are hoping the fifth time is the charm in crafting a bill that both protects the environment and homeowners’ rights.

Montgomery County is one step closer to passing the tree canopy conservation bill after a county committee OK’d a revised version on Monday.

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee unanimously agreed to send a bill to the County Council. This is the committee’s fifth worksession on the bill.

The new bill reflected input from both environmentalists and a group of small independent homebuilders calling themselves “Renewing Montgomery.” That group, whose website warns “Montgomery County is ready to take away your property rights!” had drafted its own bill and submitted it to the county.

Bob Hoyt, the director of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, described the new bill as a compromise and said he was able to “pull the best from each.”

The Tree Canopy Conservation bill (35-12), aims to save and expand the county’s tree canopy by minimizing the loss of trees during development, especially in smaller projects and private lots.

Pepco and other utility companies would not be subject to the new law.

The county’s tree canopy currently stands at about 51 percent, according to Stan Edwards, at the department of environmental protection. But that number can be deceiving, he said.

Tree canopy is much higher in some areas, especially upcounty, while being a fraction of 51 percent in urban areas. The Montgomery Hills neighborhood of Silver Spring has about 8 percent tree canopy, according to a county study, while the White Flint area has 19 percent coverage.

The revised bill requires those working on small lots — property owners or homebuilders — to pay into a fund based on how much land would be disturbed during construction. Those unable to plant the appropriate number of trees can pay into a fund. The county would use the money to plant new trees nearby or off-site.

The original bill focused on trying to preserve canopy, while the revised bill recognizes that on a lot of the small lots, which are being developed in places like Bethesda, it is near impossible to save a tree during construction, Edwards said.

“There’s just not room on the lot to provide preservation,” Edwards said.

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect description of proposed charges under the new bill.