The Bend City Council will branch out from its regular topics of discussion Wednesday as councilors are set to consider existing and potential tree policies. The fear is that if the policies are left unchecked, valuable trees will be lost.
Concern for Bend’s trees has been budding for years as the city’s population boom caused a dire need for housing and commercial development, which in turn, resulted in treating the preservation of trees and native vegetation as mostly an afterthought.
Rick Martinson, who has worked in native landscaping in Central Oregon for more than two decades, assesses trees on land poised to be developed. A few times a year, he surveys a given plat of land, measures tree diameters and calculates the environmental and economic value of the trees.
Removing trees and other native vegetation from land changes its ecology and the character, said Martinson.
“It’s just not right,” said Martinson, the executive director of the Worthy Garden Club, Worthy Brewing’s nonprofit arm.
In some ways, trees occupy valuable land in Bend where all housing is needed housing. Martinson said he has often seen the city prioritize development for the sake of development instead of considering minor changes to account for the things that make up Central Oregon’s character — like trees.
If the city and developers were to shift emphasis from development practices that prioritize profits, a delicate balance between the need for housing and tree preservation can be reached, Martinson said.
“I think it’s really an easy thing to balance, but it just requires a tiny tweak in the paradigm of development,” Martinson said.
Mayor Melanie Kebler is also looking for a balance going into Wednesday’s work session, during which she and the other City Council members will consider existing rules and if they need changing.
“I think the way to think about it is to start from a place where we can’t be either extreme. We can’t save every tree. Some trees are going to be cut down within the urban growth boundary,” Kebler said.
It’s just going to happen because it’s a part of growth, she said.
“But then the other extreme — cut all trees down with no regulation — that’s not OK either. In my mind, it’s flexibility for people who are developing housing or development so they can design a project to accommodate especially some of the larger trees,” Kebler said.
It won’t be a quick process, Kebler said. It will require thoughtful consideration about where Bend’s code is at and where the council and community want it to be, she said.
“Is it about preserving bigger trees or all trees? Is it about urban canopy and equity where trees are placed? Is it about street trees or other things? I think we need to, as a council, discuss that and decide what our goals are with this policy exploration and then talk about what the next steps would be,” Kebler said.
At Wednesday’s work session, city staff intends to go over the existing rules for development and tree preservation and some of the challenges involved in enforcing those existing rules, said Colin Stephens, the director of the city’s community and economic development department.
A state law that went into effect years ago is posing a particular challenge to enforcing the code, Stephens said.
It’s a law that requires a clear and objective standard for needed housing, which basically allows developers to justify undefined tree removal if housing is being built.
“It’s happened on occasion,” Stephens said.
Bend’s current tree preservation code has been in place since the summer of 2006, Stephens said.
“There’s some inconsistencies that we’re definitely going to clean up,” he said.
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In an article ostensibly about reviewing and revising existing rules about removing trees, wouldn’t it be helpful to actually describe those rules?
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