The future of tree protection in the city will be the subject of a public hearing slated for Tuesday, Feb. 23 in front of the Mobile City Council.
The hearing was set at a regular council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at the same time members heard publicly about the changes to city code, which would put Mobile more in line with national tree protection standards, Urban Forester Peter Toler said.
“The current code is a zoning function only,” Toler said in an interview with Lagniappe. “The goal is to bring about blanket coverage citywide.”
The proposal would remove tree protection from the zoning code and instead create a whole new chapter of code. The move would also protect more trees, Toler said.
“Right now, as the law is written, the only tree protected is a 24-inch or larger live oak,” Toler said.
Trees protected in the proposal include bald cypress, longleaf pine, magnolias, river birch, sweetgum, yellow poplar and all oaks except water oaks. Toler said the trees listed are among the more common in the area. The city would require a permit to remove these trees.
The proposal also regulates how individuals and developments interact with trees. Toler said the new ordinance would require a setback based on the size of a tree, rather than allow a standard space between a tree and fencing.
“Right now, for instance, the requirements say to put a fence 10 feet from a tree,” Toler said. “The new standards are that if a tree is 40 inches in diameter, a fence has to be 20 feet away, minimum.”
The reason for the changes is to better protect the root system of the trees going forward. Better protection of the root system, Toler said, could possibly prevent damage to the city’s tree canopy like the unparalleled damage it witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricanes Sally and Zeta. Many of the downed trees in the 600 areas impacted, Toler said, showed extensive damage to the root systems. The damage, he said, can start 15 to 20 years before a tree actually fails.
“The saying goes, as go the roots, so goes the tree,” he said. “This will lessen the chance of tree failure.”
Toler called the prospect of “common-sense tree management” in the city phenomenal.
The proposal also changes which body would hear appeals from Tree Commission decisions. Previously, those appeals would go to the Planning Commission, but if the new ordinance is adopted, the City Council would hear those appeals. The change reflects current state law, which requires the City Council to hear the appeals.
In other business, the council approved new members to a short-term rental task force. Margo Gilbert, a manager at The Battle House hotel downtown, was tapped by Visit Mobile to represent industry interests. Councilwoman Bess Rich’s appointment of Aleta Greenspan was approved, as was Councilwoman Gina Gregory’s appointment of Earl Gochey.
Gregory, who is chairwoman of the administrative services committee that recommended the task force, said the council is still awaiting an appointment from Mayor Sandy Stimpson, as well as an appointment of a resident who participates in the short-term rental business.
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