Cutting Down a Tree? You Might Regret That

Radnor Township's new shade tree ordinance tightens regulations, but one official says residents will have to pay too much.

Radnor Township is taking its dwindling tree canopy seriously.

The Board of Commissioners recently passed an amendment to its Shade Tree Ordinance that expands the definition of the valued "heritage tree," increases the situations when permitting is necessary and created a fund in which some residents will have to make involuntary donations.

For some elected officials, it is how trees are being made a priority. But one commisisoner told Radnor Patch that the public is not going to accept what he said could be a financial burden to many.

The notable ordinance changes include:

  • Expanded size of Shade Tree Commission from 5 people to 7
  • Expanded definition of a "heritage tree" from 36 inches to 30
  • Requires chain link fence to protect trees during construction
  • Established Commemorative Shade Tree Fund used if a resident can't or doesn't want to plant replacement trees on a property (will go towards Radnor's tree planting program)
  • Added situations when a property owner has to get a permit, including changing requirement from 300 to 200 cubic yards of grading

"We all want to respect people's private property," Board of Commissioners president Elaine Paul Schaefer said at the February meeting when the ordinance was passed. But "tree cover and forestation is a community asset… We have regulations to protect those natural resources."

Under the new ordinance, a property owner can remove six trees before he or she needs to start replacing them. If the tree being removed has a Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) of 6 to 18 inches, one replacement tree (of 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter); 19 to 29 inches require three replacement trees (two of large canopy tree species); and 30 inches or greater ("heritage" trees) require six replacements (four being shade trees).

The people who will likely ultimately pay the most are those who take down heritage trees for a reason apart from death of the tree or safety issues with it. In some cases putting money in escrow is required, as it always has been. But commissioner Don Curley said that he can foresee cases in which a property owner is shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in tree replacement costs.

At the February 11 meeting, Curley said he thought the ordinance needed to be rescaled to protect small lot owners. "I think this penalizes people who live on small lots," he said, adding that someone may not be able to fit 10 new trees in lieu of a 30-inch tree they felled. "They are essentially compelled to make that tax payment... while someone on a big lot can put those trees on the lot and see the benefit."

The township will establish fees in the case that property owners do not want to replace the trees themselves, but Schaefer said people can do it relatively cheaply if they go to a store and buy a tree (2 to 2.5 inch in diameter) and plant it themselves.

Also new to this ordinance is an appeal opportunity. A landowner can appeal to the board in the case that they can not afford to replace a tree or make a payment to the township. But how a "hardship" in those cases is defined Schaefer could not say. It will be taken on a case by case basis.

In the ordinance the removal of heritage trees is strongly discouraged.

"When you own a piece of property that has a natural resource on it, that comes with burdens," Schaefer said.

Draco April 06, 2013 at 11:59 AM
The problem, as always, is ENFORCEMENT. There is NONE against the big offenders for fear of litigation. Even with shade tree restrictions in place, Radnor has let large developers clearcut, over and over again, due to lack of any enforcement. Ex: Procl Presby Ch. Builders cut trees on weekend mornings too quickly to stop, then dare litigation (which Radnor does not have the guts to bring). RADNOR DOES NOT EVEN ENFORCE THE 12 inch GRASS HEIGHT ORDINANCE ON ABANDONED PROPERTIES. They will refuse to issue a citation even if a broker is attached to the property (who would cut the grass if informed). The WORST outcome would be if Radnor started enforcing these restrictions against the homeowner while letting the big offenders (developers) get away with it, for fear of litigation. Make the rules more strict? Why not just enforce what we have already, with focus on the developers.
Ryan April 06, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Maybe if Residents in Radnor stopped putting broad leaf herbicides all over their yards,( True Green, Scotts, ect) the trees would live longer and healthier. Green lawns equal dead trees( unless OG apps). Maple, Oaks, and Locust live longer than 40 years friends...Residents continually treat their properties with herbicides(&pesticides) with complete disregaurd for what they do to the trees, not to metion the water, the bees, birds, the soil structure ect....There is a disconnect! Yes replace the trees that ned to be, but don't start poisoning them the moment they are in the soil...now THAT is a waste of resources and money, not to menton time!..
Paul B. April 07, 2013 at 01:29 AM
The real stupidity of the tree ordinance hasn't been touched on yet. The code says you can cut six, but does not address over what time period. In practice, this becomes six at one time. Is there a lot in Radnor that has not had six trees cut? The rule penalizes those with the most trees. You could create standards that would encourage the planting of desirable trees on lots with fewer trees, instead of making things difficult for those with too many. Just one more example of how out of touch Radnor zoning code is. No wonder it is so widely ignored.
Joe Blow April 07, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Involuntary = acting against one's will Donation = a gift Involuntary donation = tax
Draco April 07, 2013 at 10:14 PM
I admit; I don't really understand WTH this ordinance ACCOMPLISHES. So, an apartment building which is bought by a NYC real estate investment trust can cut down six 80 foot beautiful trees which buffered/ blocked our view of the brick ugliness (true story) - so long as they replace them with six 1.5 inch trees? And then, only if Radnor has the guts to enforce (which the commercial owners know they don't)? Then what is the point of all of this- useless drivel. I suspect it will be an ordinance that Radnor will enforce unfairly: the little homeowner will take the brunt of it, the big developer/apartment owner will laugh and say "sue me!" and get away with it. Again, Radnor does not even have the guts to write a ticket about 12 inch uncut grass (true story); unlikely they will enforce this against those who NEED to be restrained. And yes, as stated above; watch PECO DECIMATE the trees in this area, without repercussion. Ex: Bryn Mawr Ave. But I digress . . .


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