The city of Mobile’s new tree ordinance will need a little more time, as members of the City Council continue to prune it.
Councilors delayed a vote on the ordinance at a meeting today and opted instead for another committee meeting on the ordinance, which moves the tree protection regulations from the zoning ordinance to its own chapter in the city code.
As it currently reads, the ordinance moves appeals of the city’s Tree Commission, a council-appointed board, from the Planning Commission, which is mostly appointed by the mayor, to the City Council. This stipulation would keep the ordinance in line with state law. The ordinance also adds a number of new trees to the “heritage” list, which adds restrictions to their removal or damage in the public rights-of-way.
At a pre-conference meeting, Councilman John Williams asked for amendments to the ordinance, which would ensure the Tree Commission retains authority and would limit the number of protected tree species.
“I’m in total disagreement with adding more trees and against lessening the Tree Commission’s authority. I don’t want to give the authority to one member of (Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s) administration.”
Currently the only “heritage” trees are oaks of a certain trunk diameter. Trees protected in the proposal include bald cypress, longleaf pine, magnolias, river birch, sweetgum, yellow poplar and all oaks except water oaks, Mobile Urban Forester Peter Toler said in a previous interview with Lagniappe.
Tree Commission Chairman Jesse McDaniel said the board believes the other trees should be added to the heritage list and further protected.
“Expansion of the heritage list is appropriate because you want to protect more trees,” he said.
As for the question of authority, McDaniel doesn’t share Williams’ concern. McDaniel said it’s already easy for the administration or a developer to circumvent the board’s authority. Also, the commission was set up as a function of state law and a city ordinance can’t change it’s authority, he said.
However, McDaniel said the commission does have concerns over the new ordinance. For one, the fine is not hefty enough, he said. The proposed $500 fine needs to come with an avenue to allow the city to collect restitution for larger trees damaged by development. Right now, the maximum amount of money charged to an ordinance violator is $770, which is the cost of the fine and court costs, he said.
Councilwoman Gina Gregory announced that an administrative services committee meeting would be scheduled for Tuesday. March 9, at 1 p.m. to discuss the ordinance.
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