An ordinance to protect mature trees from developers’ bulldozers may have gone too far, leaders in one Ramsey County suburb decided this week.
After months of discussion, the Roseville City Council has throttled back a rule that required property owners to either replant new trees to replace all mature trees cut down during development or pay fees that climb as high as 10% of the property value.
The tree ordinance stirred controversy last summer when two heavily wooded residential lots under development were initially each charged more than $10,000 for tree replacement.
“It was an unusual situation where they had to take down so many big trees and the lots weren’t big enough to put them back,” said Janice Gundlach, Roseville community development director.
The City Council agreed Monday to cap the fees in the tree preservation and restoration ordinance at 5% of the property value for single-family lots. Larger development projects must still pay up to 10% of property value for downed trees, or replace them.
Council members voted unanimously to change the ordinance but expressed support for the tree replacement policies that protect the city’s canopy.
“This keeps a lot of the main goals we have in place, but allows us to keep away from having strange outlier amounts that are unreasonable for development,” said Council Member Jason Etten.
The City Council revised its tree preservation policy in December 2015. In general, the policy requires replacement of any healthy deciduous tree that is 6 inches or more in diameter that must be removed to build. Under the formula, larger trees may require more than one replacement tree. The city contracts with a forester to review tree surveys the developer/owner submits for review and approval.
“The idea behind the ordinance is to motivate people to redevelop in a way that preserves the big trees,” Gundlach said.
The city has collected about $150,000 since 2015, but “we would rather not collect the money,” she said, noting tree preservation is the ultimate goal.
In one instance last summer, property owners wanted to build a single-family house at 3056 Hamline Av., a 0.64-acre wooded lot on Lake Josephine. Removing 17 trees to make room for the house meant the owners needed to replant nearly four dozen new trees — an impossibility. The alternative was to replant as many as they could and then pay $17,000 in replacement fees for the rest. The property owners appealed the fee, calling it onerous.
City leaders agreed, waiving the fee and agreeing the couple should plant 12 replacement trees. The city also decided to re-examine the policy.
Developer Steve Zawadski, who was working with the Lake Josephine property owners, said he’s pleased the city adjusted its rules, which will make future development more affordable.
“Roseville’s policy was really punitive,” Zawadski said. “It was pretty crushing for families.”
Zawadski said most cities require some type of tree replacement and he understands the need for city leaders to strike the right balance.
“They don’t want you to simply cut down big heritage trees without replacing them,” he said.