Published on: Thursday, January 3, 2019 News

Tree Ordinance, tree canopy, and outreach improvements

By Takoma Park City Councilmembers Cindy Dyballa, Kacy Kostiuk, and Peter Kovar

When you ask what people think about Takoma Park, one of the attributes mentioned most often is our trees. A satellite image taken in spring or summer instantly reveals the intensity of our tree canopy. Some residents have trees in their yards dating back to before B. F. Gilbert began planning a new community that was “high up – near heaven” (reputed to be the translation of the Native American word “Tacoma”).

It’s no accident we still have such lush greenery in our city. For many years, we’ve had strong advocates for tree protection and equally strong laws. And today, we have an ever growing awareness of how trees help slow climate change by removing carbon dioxide, storing carbon, and reducing energy use in nearby buildings, as well as providing other critical ecological and social benefits. Not to mention they provide shade and look amazing! When the City Council conducted its annual priority-setting process earlier this year, we pledged to take the following inter-related actions:

  • Formulate tree canopy goals to strengthen and expand Takoma Park’s commitment to growing its canopy and helping address climate change
  • Review our Tree Ordinance policies and processes to address resident concerns and ensure alignment with canopy goals
  • Explore improved approaches for education and outreach to the community with a focus on tree retention, maintenance, and growth

At the Oct. 24 Council meeting, we discussed a schedule for moving forward on these points, with a goal of completing the work by May 2019. A crucial part of the plan is ensuring many opportunities for engagement by residents and input from staff members and Council-appointed committees

Tree Ordinance

The Council has asked the Tree Commission and the Committee on the Environment to review the ordinance and recommend areas for updates and improvement. The following are some areas the Council has initially identified for review based on resident feedback: What decisions can, and cannot, be appealed

  • Definition of “hazardous” and “hardship” and waiver policies
  • Timeframes for various actions
  • Fees and tree replacement requirements, including for multifamily buildings
  • Procedures for emergencies, including emergency tree fund

Tree Canopy

The Council asked the Commission and the Committee to review tree canopy data and identify recommended goals. Both panels have previously urged the Council to establish a formal tree canopy goal. Older, mature trees are dying, and a 2014 review showed that tree canopy coverage in Wards 4 and 6 lags behind other areas. The disparity between wards connects with the City’s commitment to racial equity.

A tree canopy goal would help prioritize how to provide residents throughout the City appropriate access to the many benefits that flow from a healthy urban forest. Canopy data compiled on our behalf by Montgomery County is now undergoing a rigorous academic review, after which we’ll be well positioned to start considering longer term canopy goals and policies.

Education and Outreach

The third component of our strategy is focused on helping residents gain a better understanding of tree health and maintenance. Professional arborists recommend that residents think about tree care as seriously as they focus on home maintenance, but many property owners aren’t aware of how best to promote tree health and extend life through regular pruning and watering, and adding soil amendments. We hope to develop ways of disseminating information of this type to residents, and also improving the accessibility of information about the Tree Ordinance. Throughout this process, resident feedback will be very important. There are many ways to engage and share your views, including:

  • Online Tree Ordinance Comment Form – Fill out this form to share your experiences with the tree ordinance, recommended modifications, and/or questions.
  • Open House/Public Forum – Details will be provided as we make plans this winter.
  • Contact your Councilmember – Residents are encouraged to contact their Councilmembers to share their thoughts and experiences.
  • Public Comments at Work Sessions – The Council will hold multiple work sessions this winter, at which residents can share their opinions during the public comment period. Resources The City’s website includes information and resources on the value of our trees, how to care for them and the tree permit program.
  • Tree ordinance and canopy review project page (including online survey): tree-ordinance-review-tree-canopy-goal
  • Tree Permits:
  • Tree Commission: government/boards-commissions-and committees/tree-commission
  • Councilmember contact information:

This article appeared in the January 2019 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.