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Tree preservation ordinance
The city is considering a tree preservation industry that could save Raymore’s canopy covering, but some council members feel it violates property rights. (Tyson Fisher/Raymore Journal)

Tree preservation ordinance: Necessary or ‘draconian?’

By Raymore Journal staff

June 16, 2022

The city council is split about a potential new ordinance that will protect green space throughout Raymore, with some finding it necessary and others finding it infringes on personal property rights.

Some development projects have been more noticeable than others, especially those that require some degree of clearcutting. Although there is plenty of green space in Raymore today, what is the city doing about keeping it that way?

As of press time, there is no official plan addressing the environmental issue. At least, not yet.

Currently, city staff is considering adding a Tress Preservation Plan to Raymore’s Unified Development Code. There are no details available as the city is just mulling it over. However, finding a compromise between council members may prove to be difficult.

Current tree protections

There is already a tree preservation provision within Raymore’s Unified Development Code, but it has little teeth.

Section 430.100 of the Unified Development Code is titled “Tree Preservation and Existing Vegetation.” It includes three guidelines regarding trees and vegetation:

  1. The city may require tree preservation as part of requests before city commissions and council.
  2. Existing vegetation may be used to satisfy landscaping/screening requirements.
  3. Preserved trees will be credited toward satisfying the tree planting requirements.

The current ordinance has no strict requirements for tree preservation, let alone an enforcement mechanism. It only lists tree preservation as an option for development deals.

As the current city code stands, any landowner can clear his or her entire property of trees before submitting a rezoning request. Nothing stops them from doing so to make the land more attractive to developers.

Proposed tree preservation ordinance

Although there are many ways a tree preservation can take form, Raymore’s Development Services Director David Gress pitched some ideas from existing ordinances in Missouri.

According to Gress, one key component is to clearly delineate areas where tree canopies should be saved and outline measures that need to be taken to ensure they are saved. It sounds easy enough, but there are details that may be hard to flesh out.

Based on other cities’ ordinances, Gress suggested that preservation efforts begin when there is more than 5,000 square feet of wooded area on any given property. A minimum of 30% of wooded area would need to be maintained or protected. To prevent landowners from clearcutting before selling, that includes wooded area that previously existed, allowing the city to enforce preservation ordinances retroactively.

Of course, that will require a citywide tree inventory. That could cost thousands of dollars and siphon valuable resources from the city.

Another option deals with replacing trees that have been removed. Gress suggested that any tree that is 8 inches of caliper or more will need to be replaced with two more trees of equal size once matured. The city already has a list of approved trees to choose from.

There could also be an option allowing developers to circumvent tree preservation. That could come in the form of a fee in lieu of preservation. A new ordinance can establish a Tree Fund. Developers could pay around $300 per tree to the fund if they wish to cut them down. Penalties can be levied for those who violate the Tree Preservation ordinance.

Council Member Joseph Burke III suggested adding a provision that encourages the removal of invasive tree species.

Draconian or necessary?

About half of the city council appeared to be on board, with others finding the proposal to be government overreach.

Several council members, including Kevin Barber, John Berendzen and Jay Holman seemed apprehensive about the idea, with the latter vehemently against the idea. The three council members expressed concerns over the government telling people what they can and cannot do with their personal property.

“This is the most draconian thing I have ever seen in my life,” Holman said. “People are going to cut down a tree in their yard, and we’re going to try to put them in jail? This is insane. I absolutely oppose all elements of this, plus the fact it would cost us money and staff time that we don’t have enough of now.”

Holman went on to say that there is no need to codify tree preservation if developers are already making those efforts with the city when submitting proposals. For example, the trees along Johnston Drive were required to be preserved when approving the current Taco Bell. Holman suggested that a Tree Preservation ordinance should be considered only when developers begin to push back.

Barber took a softer position, stating he is fine with the ordinance once land is being considered for development. However, Barber is not okay with the ordinance applying to property owners in general.  He also mentioned that maintaining older trees can get expensive.

Berendzen concurred with Barber, adding that he would like to see a plan more simplified and less onerous.

Conversely, other council members were more open to the idea of a preservation ordinance.

Burke indicated that the city needs to preserve large, highly visible trees. He said those trees have some value to the city.

Council Members Tabitha Forster and Victoria Wills met somewhere closer to the middle with Barber, Berendzen and Holman. Both indicated that although the detailed plan discussed may be a bit much, a tree preservation ordinance of some type is needed.

City staff will further review a potential tree preservation ordinance. The council will be presented with an update during a future work session to be determined later.