Rockville has long been a leader in environmental stewardship, but there are proposed changes in City ordinances that the Mayor and Council are considering on Monday (7/20) that would weaken developer requirements and incentives to preserve and plant trees on their properties. Although there are some changes being proposed that are benign, there are three that would have adverse effects on our environment:
1. When developers plant trees as part of their development plans, there is a warranty period during which, if the tree dies, it must be replaced. The length of the tree warranty period is proposed to be reduced from 5 to 2 years. Two years is not adequate for a tree in an urban environment to get established. In urban environments they are likely to be much more stressed than those in forests or our yards. The result is that we will have more developments with trees that don’t survive—and after only 2 years--no obligation to replace any dead tree.
2. Currently the City foresters inspect new trees planted by developers twice yearly during the warranty period. If the tree is stressed because it isn’t be watered, because the straps have been on too long or because landscapers inappropriately put too much mulch around the tree, the City can request that the developer/owner take corrective actions to enhance chances the tree will survive. The second proposed change is to change this to have only an inspection at planting and at the end of the warranty period. Foresters view the inspections as a service to the developer, reducing the need to replace trees, but some developers evidently see taking proper care of their trees as a burden. There are regulations on how to maintain trees, but this change would be an invitation for those regulations to be ignored. This change in conjunction with the reduction in the warranty period would greatly reduce long-term survival rates of trees planted by developers.
3. There is a fee-in-lieu for those developers who choose not to meet the City’s tree requirements. They can contribute to a city fund that must be used to plant and maintain trees elsewhere in the City, often in parks. Currently the fee is $5 per sq. foot. These The new rules reduce this to $4 for private owners, $1.15 for public owners (e.g. county facilities). However there is some indication that the developer community will advocate for reducing the fee further, possibly to $1.15. This has two implications, one is that developers have less incentive to design their developments to include an adequate number of trees and, secondly, it would reduce the funds available to the City to plant and maintain trees in Rockville.
Perhaps most the disturbing intelligence I gathered is that City environmental staff who disagree with these changes have been instructed to keep their opposition to themselves, such that the Mayor and Council cannot hear the full range of views among City staff. The proposed changes have been made without any prior input or comment from the Environmental and Planning Commissions.
The rationale for these changes is that Rockville’s requirements are more stringent than some neighboring jurisdictions, such as Gaithersburg. While I am skeptical that tree regulations would be a deciding factor about where a developer might want to go, I don’t think that Rockville should engage in a “race to the bottom” with other jurisdictions.
The proposed changes can be found athttps://rockmail.rockvillemd.gov/clerk/egenda.nsf/d5c6a20307650f4a852572f9004d38b8/e1d552adec03182e85257e670050dd64/$FILE/Attachment%20A%20-%20All%20Proposed%20Changes%20in%20Red%20Line.pdf , while the M&C meeting agenda is athttp://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/07202015-1349 .
I urge you to come to the public hearing at Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting (7/20) and speak to the issue or to write to the Mayor and Council expressing your opposition to these changes. Let’s keep Rockville green in doing so, fight global warming.
Thanks for your consideration,
Woodley Gardens Civic Association