MATTHEWS – Leaders in Matthews made a preemptive stand last week against a statute being considered by the North Carolina General Assembly that would eliminate a municipality’s ability to require developers to preserve trees on private property.
The Matthews Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday, May 12, to pass a resolution denouncing the possible legislation. The General Assembly statute, which could soon come up for a vote in the legislature’s short session, says in part that no city “shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, rule, regulation or resolution that regulates … the removal, replacement and preservation of trees on private property within its jurisdiction.”
Towns generally require developers to commit to saving a certain amount of trees when rezoning a property for a new usage, which gives towns some control over preserving the area tree canopy – a quality of life measure that has earned Matthews a Tree City USA designation for years. But the “tree save” area of a property takes away from land that can be developed, which in many instances means fewer homes, apartments or retail locations for a developer – which equals less revenue for that developer.
In a General Assembly short session that in part has been pledged to making life easier for businesses in order to improve the state’s economy, Matthews leaders worry their trees could fall by the wayside of economic progress.
“… as a former long-term member of the Matthews Appearance and Tree Board, I can say that the state’s attempt to take away what little ability we currently have to control the destruction of our tree canopy is unwarranted and unfortunate,” Matthews Commissioner John Higdon said in an email Monday, May 19. Higdon, who was one of the most vocal voices against the state’s legislature at last week’s board meeting, has promised to discuss the matter with state legislators when Matthews leaders visit Raleigh on June 4.
The tree ordinance is one of a number of topics Mayor Jim Taylor hopes to bring up to state leaders at a time when he worries municipalities are losing some of their ability to govern due to potential laws circulating in Raleigh. Another discussion would limit a municipality’s ability to control aesthetic standards for developments (which allow towns to push for nearby projects to be of the same standards and visual appearance) while many municipalities are worried about what the state’s ruling on privileged license fees may have on town budgets.
“It’s one of a multi-faceted concern that I think we have … as local control continues to be taken away piece by piece by the general assembly,” Taylor said about the tree ordinance regulation and other similar power-limiting/business-support bills. “The tree canopy is (something) we’ve tried very hard over the years to preserve and save as much of … as we can.”
Saving trees was one of the concerns brought up by area residents at a recent zoning meeting for a townhome project proposed for the corner of Fullwood Lane and Marion Drive in Matthews. Some neighbors told the board that trees on the property, which is currently mostly vacant, would be a shame to lose because of how many people walk through the area or enjoy seeing them as they drive by. The trees also play a part in air quality standards and are a draw for potential residents and businesses, leaders said.
“Any time we have a large rezoning or a large potential project, one of the first things that comes up is what is going to happen to the existing tree canopy; what’s going to happen to the wildlife,” Taylor said. “We dealt with that a number of years ago when we had no ability to preserve it” and coordinated a tree study that pinpointed “heritage trees” that needed to be preserved, Taylor added.
The mayor hopes state legislators won’t pass an all-encompassing bill limiting towns’ ability to preserve trees, and instead consider a bill targeted at problem areas, as legislators have said there are some municipalities that have abused their “tree save” power.
Matthews, Taylor said, is not one of those. The town has worked hard toward creating a unique home for residents and businesses.
“I chose to live in Matthews because I like Matthews; I like what we have here,” Taylor said, speaking in part about the area’s trees. “A lot of people I talk to are in the same boat.”
Should towns such as Matthews and Mint Hill be allowed to dictate how many trees a developer must save on private property? Send a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be included in next week’s issue. Letters must be 400 words or fewer.