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.