City Council passes new tree rules with no opposition

SALISBURY — With no opposition from the public, City Council on Tuesday passed new tree rules that regulate clear cutting but include compromises with developers.

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Also at Tuesday’s City Council meeting:

• City Council rezoned about 100 acres and amended the existing Conditional District Overlay to permit the development of a 29,625-square-foot addition to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Building 600.

Jonathan Chamberlain, chief of facilities, said the $14 million addition will be the second project from a $12 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2010. The bond also helped pay for a $2.3 million facility for fire and emergency services training.

State and federal funds made up the difference, Chamberlain said.

The addition to Building 600 will include classrooms for new health programs, he said, as well as new facades on the west and north sides, which motorists see from Interstate 85.

“It will put a fresh face on the college,” Chamberlain said.

The college still needs approval from the state and county to proceed with construction, which Chamberlain said he hopes will begin this spring. New classrooms will come online throughout the multi-phase project, which should be wrapped up by summer 2015, he said.

• Mayor Paul Woodson praised Rowan County for Dan Nicholas Park, which he visited recently, as well as for the new 911 call center, which several City Council members said was impressive.

In other City Council business

The updated tree ordinance shows that Salisbury is taking steps to improve air quality, although “we’re still going to be way behind all the other cities around us,” said Rodney Queen, chairman of the Tree Board, which worked on the rules for two years.

Air pollution prompted the additional regulations. Salisbury and Rowan County are part of a designated non-attainment area, a large region around Charlotte with poor air quality.

Queen said although some people still oppose the new rules, the original recommendations made two years ago by a consultant would have represented a true hardship for developers by banning clear cutting and removal of most trees greater than 24 inches in diameter.

Queen said after he read the original draft, he suggested pulling the tree rules section from the city’s new Land Development Ordinance and giving it to the Tree Board for further study.

City Council then appointed a committee led by council members Brian Miller and Karen Alexander to reach further compromise with developers.

As modified, the new rules still allow clear cutting under certain circumstances but do not require replanting as many trees or as quickly as first suggested. The rules still require a 30 percent tree canopy for commercial and residential developments but don’t apply to single-family homes.

Developers must submit a plan to the city before clear cutting, and afterward, they must clean up the site.

Property owners who have a wooded site for sale can thin 10 percent of the trees so prospective buyers can better see the land. They do not have to replant those trees.

Replanting requirements kick in when a site has been cleared but then nothing happens. After two to five years, depending on circumstances, owners have three choices: plant at least 36 shade trees per acre, plant tree seedlings in every 10-by-10-foot area or pay the city $150 for each tree they don’t plant.

They also can do a combination of the three options.

Mayor Paul Woodson said he felt better after learning that city staff will have discretion to extend deadlines for developers who have construction under way but run into a snag.

The rules are not retroactive.

The only other speakers at the public hearing were Christopher Queen, son of Rodney Queen, who uses an inhaler on bad air quality days and asked City Council to help improve the environment, and Elaine Spalding, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, who thanked City Council for working with developers and creating a “business-friendly” tree ordinance.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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