HVL City Council Addresses Developers Removing Trees - TribPapers

HVL City Council Addresses Developers Removing Trees

Hendersonville's natural environment of flourishing greenery provides important physiological, sociological and aesthtic counterpoints to an urban setting. Photo courtesy of the Hendersonville Tree Board.

Hendersonville – On March 7, the Hendersonville City Council Meeting heard recommendations from concerned citizens regarding land development. The Tree Board has been concerned about the declining tree canopy for over a year. The city’s tree canopy is rapidly disappearing as developers remove huge swaths of trees, including many beautiful mature trees, to build housing units and commercial properties. These unsightly clearings are easily visible as one drives throughout Hendersonville.

Many may have seen the unsightly clearing at the entrance of Sam’s Club near Wal-Mart or even Providence Walk on North Main Street between Baldwin Hill Ave. and Strick Garden Lane. These sites were completely wooded before the developments started. From 2014 to 2022, Hendersonville lost 144 acres of tree canopy. Since then, at least another 30 acres of trees have been removed from the local landscape. New development needs to be ecologically sound. It must contribute to the process of air purification, oxygen production, and uptake (elimination) of carbon dioxide. The land must be properly managed, i.e., responsibly managed, to keep this beautiful tree-centric community’s character intact. With this in mind, a Tree Ordinance Revision Committee was formed by the council. At the March 7 meeting, they presented the City Council with recommendations for changes.

The City Council meeting can be heard and viewed in its entirety by going to: https://hendersonville-nc.municodemeetings.com. The Ordinance presented by the Tree Ordinance Revision Committee for consideration is quite lengthy, detailed, and consists of members from various walks of life. On the Committee are Lyndsey Simpson, Chair (City Council), Glenn Lange (Tree Board), Mary Davis (Tree Board), Neil Brown (Planning Board), Caitlyn Gendusa (Public Works), Virginia Tegel (ESB), Steve Dozier (BAC), Daniel Heyman (Legal), Susan Frady (PEP), Lew Holloway (Community Development), Mark Stierwalt (Public Works), Ken Gordon (Business Advisory Committee), and Debbie Roundtree (City Council).

A primary recommendation found in the ordinance being presented for adoption was the establishment of a canopy preservation standard. This standard would apply to lots that exceed 2 acres and establishes a baseline requirement to preserve 20% of the canopy with a requirement that an additional 10% (for a total of 30%) be preserved, allowing for alternative compliance approaches for the final 10%.

Hendersonville's quality of life is reflected in the abundance of trees and undergrowth, which supports urban wildlife in the city. Photo courtesy of the Hendersonville Tree Board.
Hendersonville’s quality of life is reflected in the abundance of trees and undergrowth, which supports urban wildlife in the city. Photo courtesy of the Hendersonville Tree Board.

A controversial recommendation was the proposal to eliminate the Tree Board’s review of Conditional Zoning projects. This was met with opposition by many who spoke. In particular, Glenn Lange of the Tree Board said: “Concerning the proposal to eliminate the Tree Board’s review on Conditional Zoning projects, we would like to point out that our review involves much more than just recommendations about trees, but reviews the effect that a development has on the city’s land management, ecological health, and the entire vegetative quality of our landscape. We believe that having those kinds of discussions with developers and making recommendations has the possibility to add value to the overall quality of life in Hendersonville.”

Lange also was concerned about the calculation of the pay-in-lieu that was included in the staff presentation. The Tree Board believes “the pay-in-lieu should reflect the landscape value of the additional trees removed. The calculation of pay-in-lieu presented to you substantially undervalues the value of existing, often mature, trees. The basis of that calculation is only the cost of buying and planting a 1-to-3-inch caliper tree, in other words, a sapling. And the calculation completely ignores the very real monetary value of trees to our environment.” Lange requested the Tree Board “be allowed to meet with staff to further discuss this issue with council direction that we jointly develop a way to better reflect the true value of our trees.”

Members from the community spoke on the ordinance proposals. Strong opinions in favor of preserving the landscape and character of Western North Carolina were voiced. However, The Chamber of Commerce Board Member, Randy Hunter, spoke in opposition to these Tree Ordinance changes, wanting to give as much encouragement as possible to developers. Others differed. They consider a healthy urban forest a crucial component of life, health, and well-being in Hendersonville. Some said that the standard of the establishment of canopy preservation applying only to lots that exceed 2 acres and 30,000 square feet was too large; topsoil removal, which is allowed with development, was another concern. Another viewer spoke about the permits needed in Asheville, which are more stringent. She also wanted more well-qualified arborists involved in the making of these decisions.

In response to the varied comments presented during the Public Hearing and the concerns presented by the Tree Board, Hendersonville City Council postponed a decision in regards to the recommendations presented by the Tree Ordinance Revision Committee; asking staff to work further on the project, taking into account public comments and concerns, and to present adjusted recommendations at the City Council meeting on April 4.