(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. John Frewing is a Tigard resident.)
A blast of hot air rushed through Tigard City Hall on the evening of April 22 as the Planning Commission made its recommendation to the City Council for a new section of our comprehensive plan dealing with tree protection and enhancement of our urban forest. Behind the hot air was the Home Builders Association (HBA), who rounded up 12 speakers to complain about possible interference with building development if the policies hammered out over the past year by the Tigard Tree Board were adopted.
The Planning Commission spent 95 percent of the evening listening and then adopting most of the HBA concepts as language which will go to the City Council in a workshop on May 6 and could then be adopted in a formal hearing on June 3. Anyone interested in tree protection should appear at these two City Council meetings to express their views. To wit:
- HBA representatives asked that any reference to the mitigation requirements for removing trees should not use the word 'proportional' when describing the extent of mitigation. The Planning Commission bought this idea. The Tree Board and staff had recommended that the nature and amount of mitigation should be 'proportional' to the impact of tree removal. Mitigation may occur in the form of tree planting elsewhere, a monetary payment, or other efforts to maintain what remains of Tigard's urban forest.
- HBA representatives asked that reference to mitigation of tree removal should include the modifying phrase, 'while minimizing cost of mitigation to the developer.' The Planning Commission bought only half of this restrictive wording, agreeing that the concept of mitigation should 'consider' the cost to developers in applying mitigation to a specific site.
- HBA representatives complained about the use of the term 'understory' in making reference to tree protection. Understory is the brush and groundcover beneath and adjacent to trees which covers roots, absorbs and retains moisture in soil, prevents erosion and harbors both bugs and small animals/birds which coexist with trees. The Planning Commission bought this idea, eliminating entirely the word 'understory' from the recommended policies of the new comprehensive plan.
- HBA representatives railed at the idea of any regulation of trees on privately owned lands. The Planning Commission ignored the fact that other land features like streams, wetlands, steep slopes, etc., also call for regulation on privately owned lands for the purpose of protecting natural resources and public safety and eliminated any reference to tree removal outside of an application for a new development.
The issue which is so galling to Tree Board members and those citizens who have worked on this comprehensive plan revision over the past year is that the new policies are clearly weaker than those of our first comprehensive plan, written in 1983. For example:
- The prior comprehensive plan included at policy 3.4.2.b that 'development in designated timbered or tree areas be reviewed through the planned-development process to minimize the number of trees removed.' The planned development process provides for more flexibility by both the developer and city in adjusting constructed sites to retain trees.
- The prior comprehensive plan set forth in strategy 220.127.116.11 that 'where there exist large or unique stands of trees or major vegetation areas with the planning area on undeveloped land, the city shall ensure that development proposals do not substantially alter the character of the vegetation areas through the planned development process and the tree cutting section of the community development code.'
- The prior comprehensive plan included in policy 3.4.2.c that regulations would 'require cluster type development in areas having important wildlife habitat value as delineated on the fish and wildlife habitat map on file at the city.' Tree areas are among those areas mapped and known for their wildlife habitat.
- The prior comprehensive plan set forth in strategy 18.104.22.168 that 'the city shall encourage, through the planned development process, the retention of large, varied habitat areas on private and public lands including inventoried plant and animal communities.'
Notwithstanding the fact that these earlier provisions have not been implemented in many developments throughout Tigard, they at least represented citizen interest in tree and associated habitat protection which has been shown to be a priority still today (viz Tigard Community Survey, Tigard for Tomorrow Survey, Tigard Parks and Recreation Survey, 2004). Yet, the HBA, notably absent from Tree Board discussions over the past year, was able that evening to emerge with new proposed wording for our comprehensive plan which eliminates any enforceable provisions for tree retention. The resulting wordings include phrases such as 'where possible,' 'consider,' 'cooperate,' 'as appropriate,' 'address,' 'promote,' etc.
Tigard's comprehensive plan is a policy document as distinguished from the community development code, which is to be developed later based on the new words of the comprehensive plan. Many good provisions for new policy have been turned aside by staff and the Planning Commission, saying that they are 'too specific' at this stage of development and can be considered later. Yet the HBA were able somehow to bypass this kind of argument and place its restrictive language into the policy document.
The Tigard City Council should ask for a point-by-point comparison of our new comprehensive plan regarding trees with similar provisions of adjoining cities. We should be at least as conservative as our neighbors, lest our traffic reputation broaden to trees and other aspects of our locality.
Despite the good intentions of City Council members, in the past months, they have not significantly changed any proposed comprehensive plan policies brought to them for formal approval (indeed, they are busy on many other issues). However, this tree-protection issue is one that will affect Tigard's attractiveness, property values and economic viability over the next 20 years and deserves close attention.
Hopefully the City Council will look at the record of work over the past year and consider ALL citizen input rather than just the amazing impact of hot air put forward April 22.