Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Lebanon debates tree ordinance

Building rules would require 20 per acre

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The city will hear residents' and builders' views tonight on proposed landscaping rules that would force all new residential and commercial developments to have 20 trees for every acre.

        The landscape ordinance is thought to be only the second in the Tristate, although such ordinances are not uncommon in other parts of Ohio and the country.

        It also would require that trees be planted along streets, in buffer zones and in parking lots, and require that developers try to avoid tearing down large trees.

        Supporters of the rules say they would enhance Lebanon's image as a Tree City USA, but opponents say they would take away basic American rights and scare off new businesses.

        “We want to make this into a forested city,” said Billie Runyan, a member of the shade tree committee that helped City Council and the planning commission create the ordinance. “... We do have subdivisions where builders have not provided ample trees. It gives such a stark look.”

        Those who wrote the ordinance and the developers who are alarmed by it agree on one thing: Trees increase the value of a development.

        “We're not opposed to a landscape ordinance,” said Tony Condia, an official with the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. “We want to have a product that's aesthetically pleasing. I think the approach that Lebanon takes may go simply too far.”

        Developers say the ordinance may be more strict than officials realize.

        Requiring 20 trees per acre doesn't seem insurmountable on quarter-acre home lots, said Kevin Scott of Bunnell Hill, a commercial developer. But it would be difficult and costly for a business to put, say, a 100,000-square-foot building and 200 trees on 10 acres, he said.

        “It could stop them from coming,” Mr. Scott said.

        The ordinance also is invasive of property owners' rights, Mr. Condia said.

        “There's a provision in there that would prevent private landowners from trimming their own trees,” he said. “That seems a little counter to what we in America stand for.”

        The ordinance includes lists of acceptable trees; on the 20-tree requirement, half must be large trees, it says — meaning a tree that, at maturity, reaches at least 50 feet.

        Mason passed a less restrictive landscape ordinance in 1994 — with no requirements for the interiors of residential lots, for instance. But the city is revisiting its ordinance, Mason City Engineer Richard Fair said.

        One weakness in Mason's ordinance is that it doesn't require enough trees along major streets, Mr. Fair said.


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