Cary temporarily loosens tree removal rules

aspecht@newsobserver.comDecember 24, 2013 

— Temporary rules for removing big trees in Cary aim to give developers more flexibility.

The Cary Town Council approved interim rules Dec. 19 that allow developers to remove so-called champion trees that are affected by public infrastructure such as roads, sewers and storm-drain lines.

Champion trees – those that are bigger than 30 inches in diameter or others considered especially valuable – may also be removed if they’re in the way of proposed buildings or site features that cannot be erected elsewhere on the property due to Cary’s design standards.

The rule change came after months of debate in which developers complained that the inability to remove large trees would hinder their projects.

In June, the Town Council adopted rules prohibiting the removal of champion trees unless they are damaged or diseased beyond repair in the eyes of a tree specialist such as a registered landscape architect or certified arborist.

Previously, all champion-tree removal requests went before Cary’s planning director, who was limited in his ability to govern them because the town’s ordinance gave him few guidelines to follow.

But the rules enacted in June provided little flexibility and would make construction drastically more difficult, developers said.

Some projects in Cary halted completely after the June revision, said Ricky Barker, Cary’s associate planning director.

The interim rules will help developers take “practical” steps toward completing their projects while still “preserving most champion trees on site,” Barker said.

Town Council members said they had no issues with the interim rules.

“We had people stuck in the development process because they had already gotten their property successfully rezoned and their site plan approved when we changed the ordinance,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson.

“This is a temporary move to help them out until we get in there and can fix the ordinance more fully,” she continued.

Town staff have been discussing the issue for months and held a meeting with developers and environmentalists in mid-November.

The group recommended Cary staff revise champion-tree rules so that they focus on preserving sections of tree-dense areas rather than single trees.

The interim rules redefine champion trees to exclude trees that are dead, diseased or abnormal. That revision “simplifies” an arborist’s job, according to a Cary staff report.

But the interim rules do not clarify what tree growths and structures are considered to be abnormal.

The staff report projects that a comprehensive revision to Cary’s champion-tree rules will go before the Town Council in April.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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