City Council Approves Tree Ordinance Amendments

The Charlotte City Council this week approved an amendment to its Tree Ordinance that immediately eliminates the density bonus for single-family lot development “not subject to” the subdivision ordinance, while also expanding a perimeter buffer requirement for all new single-family subdivisions using the tree save incentive.

REBIC had been lobbying against the changes, and while we were unsuccessful in convincing Council to preserve the incentive for individual lots, we were able to secure a three-month deferral in the effective date of the perimeter buffer requirement.

Neighborhood activists had asked City staff to eliminate the ‘Tree Save loophole’, which allowed builders preserving at least 25% tree save on their site to automatically reduce their lot width to what was allowed under the cluster provisions of the next highest zoning district — often as much as 20′ narrower than what the current zoning permitted.

Staff argued that this incentive was intended for developers constructing Major or Minor subdivisions that were regulated by he provisions of the Tree Ordinance, not for builders on individual lots not subject to the ordinance. They also noted that the trees saved on individual lots, while required to be set aside as common area, were environmentally insignificant, difficult to track, and often removed by homeowners.

No data was provided to substantiate staff’s claim that eliminating the tree save incentive would have no appreciable impact on the tree canopy. When questioned by members of Council, staff was only able to provide data on tree save acreage going back about two years. The current version of the ordinance has been in place since 2002.

Rick Roti, of the Charlotte Public Tree Fund and the Sierra Club, spoke last month alongside local builders and engineers in defense of the current ordinance, and urged City Council to keep the provision in place as it is having an even more positive impact than was originally expected – nearly twice as many trees are saved when using the incentive than otherwise.

The approved text amendment also expands the 20′ perimeter buffer requirement, previously required only when a single-family site buffered a higher-intensity use (industrial, multifamily, etc), to ALL subdivisions using the 25% tree save incentive to reduce lot width. Developers may also meet this requirement by ensuring perimeter lots meet no more than the cluster zoning provisions of the underlying district (as opposed to the narrower provisions of the next-higher zoning district).

As a result of REBIC’s advocacy efforts, the perimeter buffer provision will not go into effect until November 23, 2016, to minimize impact on subdivisions now being designed at negotiated.

City Council passed the changes by a vote of 7 – 1, with Councilman John Autry the only ‘NO’ vote. Councilmembers VI Lyles, James Mitchell and Kenny Smith were absent.

You can find the staff analysis here and a matrix depicting the adopted changes here.


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