A Deep-rooted Need for New Tree Legislation to Protect and Sustain Canopy
By Caren Madsen, CM Board of Directors
Eight years ago, I put a desperate call in to Dolores Milmoe of the Audubon Naturalist Society. I had seen a Washington Post story quoting Dolores regarding a local land use case and admired her moxie and breadth of knowledge. At wit's end, I called Dolores because a developer intended to take a 1.26-acre tract of urban forest in our older Silver Spring neighborhood and turn it into a road and six 3,000-square foot houses, dwarfing adjacent homes.
Dolores helped me figure out how to navigate the county maze to get information about the rights of adjacent neighbors and what could be done to save a quiet green oasis in our community. She provided great advice but in the end, the developer won. He took a beautiful patch of trees perched on the highest point in our neighborhood and turned it into a moonscape overnight.
As painful as it was, I learned a lot from this awful experience – first and foremost that our existing Forest Conservation Law (FCL) offered no protection for trees that do not meet the definition of a forest and are located on a land area of less of 40,000 square feet. Although the FCL was triggered, all but two mature trees were bulldozed to shoehorn six houses onto an acre. Muddy storm water leaked from silt fences around the construction site. It flowed like a river down Locust Grove Road and Riley Place for months, draining onto Georgia Avenue and reaching the Flora Lane branch of Sligo Creek.
A lot was wrong about this particular case. The developer was able to use a subdivision plan that had been recorded in 1945, a full 25 years before any environmental laws were enacted in the United States. To me, that alone seems wrong. The land around that single acre had undergone dramatic changes over the decades such as the Capital Beltway being built a few blocks away, dense commercial development along Georgia Avenue and the intersection of Forest Glen Road and Georgia Avenue – which has become the most congested intersection in the county.
I confess that the older I get, the more I believe that someone else’s property rights end at his or her lot line. In other words, I don’t believe anyone should have an inalienable right to have an adverse impact on my property, my family and my quality of life -- and then call it “the price of progress.” Yet it happens every day in Montgomery County when trees are removed just because they are in the way of a building project and it is a challenge to build around existing trees and protect their critical root zones.
Remember the Post Office that was on Second Avenue in Silver Spring? Remember a nice row of street trees outside of the Post Office? The Post Office has been demolished to make way for a high-rise project. That’s reasonable. We’re running out of developable land with only 2% of the county left to develop. We need to build up and not out in order to preserve more green space, right? But just last week the builders cut down all of the healthy trees that were well outside of their construction path and outside of the fence marking the site. In addition to cutting down the trees, there are now stumps left in the right of way. The County budget for stump removal in the right of way has been completely eliminated. We currently have more than 10,000 stumps sitting where new trees could be planted.
What’s wrong with this picture? Is it not ludicrous to neglect to pass legislation to preserve healthy canopy and street trees over the years and then slash a budget that would allow us to replant along our county streets and roads?
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a few good developers out there. You know who you are. But your cohorts who see trees as an inconvenience are making the majority of builders look bad. It’s time for a change; we hope the good-guy builders will work for change instead of swimming against the tide.
Along with the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Potomac Conservancy, Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Casey Trees and the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, Conservation Montgomery is supporting passage of two important tree bills before the County Council. Developers are up in arms the same way that they were when they fought passage of the FCL tooth and nail in the early 1990s. By the way, the FCL is the law that builders say is working and the reason we don’t need new tree legislation that will track with changes in our development patterns. Go figure…
Bill 35-12 is an urban canopy bill offered up by County Executive Leggett. The bill is intended to slow the loss of trees on tracts of land that are under the FCL threshold. With its passage will be the first time legislation will address the problem of losing trees one, two or three or a quarter of an acre or so at a time in Montgomery County. As introduced, the bill is imperfect. But it’s the nature of the legislative process to negotiate and improve legislation before it becomes law. County Executive Leggett is open to amendments to Bill 35-12.
For details, click on each event link below. Check back for details if there is no link available under a heading.
- May 4, Community Greening tree-planting, Long Branch Library, Silver Spring, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- May 9, Environmental documentary film: Taking Root
- May 15, Conservation Montgomery Board of Directors monthly meeting, 7:30 p.m.
- May 18, Countywide BIG Tree Tour, led by Joe Howard, Chair of the Montgomery County Forestry Board, and sponsored by Conservation Montgomery, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Registration closed and we are running a wait list.
- May 21, Forest Conservation Advisory Committee meeting, 7 p.m., 255 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 1st floor
- June 1st, Family Community Stroll. 10 a.m. hike along the Cabin John Stream. Details here.
- Summer Tree Keepers begins. SSL hours are available for students participating in summer tree stewardship. Check back for details or click the "Volunteer" button at right on this homepage.
- June 18th, Forest Conservation Advisory Committee meeting, 7 p.m. Rockville
- June 24th, County Council Transportation & Environment Committee Meets on Tree Bills 35-12 and 41-12.
Forestry and trees
- Bill 41-12 to protect street trees in the County Rights of Way has been introduced in the Council. Hearing date is Jan. 17. Read about the bill.
- Bill 35-12 to protect trees that are not covered under the Forest Conservation Law has been introduced in the Council. Hearing date: Jan. 17. Click to read about the bill.
Check with your County Councilmember's office or with your State legislators on issues of interest to you.
Click on to each name below to visit the websites of our member organizations or corporate affiliates.
- Audubon Naturalist Society
- Bethesda Green
- Casey Trees
- Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN)
- Choose Clean Water Coalition
- Equestrian Partners in Conservation
- Friends of Sligo Creek
- Granito de Arena
- Greater Sandy Spring Green Space
- Hiking Along
- Little Falls Watershed Alliance
- Montgomery Bicycle Advocates (MoBike)
- Montgomery County Civic Federation
- Montgomery Countryside Alliance
- Montgomery County Parks Foundation
- Muddy Branch Alliance
- My Green Montgomery
- Neighbors of the Northwest Branch
- Potomac Conservancy
- Rock Creek Conservancy
- Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens' Association
- Silver Spring Green
- Washington Women Outdoors
- West Montgomery County Citizens Association
- Woodrock Homeowners Association