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Portland City Council considers overhaul of tree regulations

In response to neighborhood concerns about the state of Portland's tree rules and loss of trees to development, the Portland City Council launched the Citywide Tree Project in 2007.

On Wednesday, February 2 at 6 p.m., City Council will hold a public hearing on the Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Improvement Project (a.k.a. "Citywide Tree Project"). Council will consider the recommendations of the Urban Forestry Commission and Portland Planning Commission (now the Planning and Sustainability Commission), as well as input from Portland residents and community organizations.


Working closely with community stakeholders for more than three years, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) led a multi-bureau effort to review and revamp the existing rules for trees.


Last year, the Portland Planning Commission and Urban Forestry Commission held a public hearing on an initial draft proposal.  The commissions heard broad community support for stronger tree protection and replacement requirements. Developers expressed concern about the potential impact of the rules on project cost and housing affordability. 


The two commissions subsequently worked with City bureaus to further hone and streamline the proposal. As a result, the proposal before the City Council:

  • Consolidates the city's tree rules into a single new code title, which makes them easier to find, understand and administer.
  • Strengthens tree preservation and planting requirements the City applies when new development is proposed.
  • Includes specific exemptions and added flexibility to minimize development costs and make it easier to preserve trees on development sites. 
  • Standardizes and streamlines the existing tree permit system to encourage retention of large healthy trees where practical, and to ensure that larger trees are replaced when removed anywhere in the city.
  • Provides for enhanced customer service through a single point of contact for public inquiries and permit processing, a 24-hour tree hotline and a community tree manual.

"The City estimates that the Tree Project proposal will generate more than 100 acres of future tree canopy per year," states Susan Anderson, director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, "helping to clean air and water, capture greenhouse gases, reduce energy demand and improve overall quality of life for Portlanders."


"There were certainly challenges with the existing tree code," writes David Nielsen, chief executive officer of the Homebuilders Association of Metro Portland, in a letter to City Council dated Jan. 24, 2011. "One of the goals of this process, as outlined by BPS, was to establish a clear, cohesive, consistent regulatory framework. I believe much progress was made to that end and that our few remaining, but very important, policy and code issues can be addressed to provide a better balance between tree preservation and development needs."

A "natural capital asset," Portland's trees provide benefits worth millions of dollars per year, and their replacement value is roughly $5 billion, according to a recent Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau study. Other studies show that neighborhood trees can increase home resale values, lower crime rates and improve physical and mental health.


In response to the fiscal constraints both the public and private sectors are facing, the Planning and Urban Forestry commissions recommended that the City Council phase the implementation of the proposal to provide time to ramp up, conduct public outreach, train staff, and manage and sequence project costs. 


"Regulations are one important tool, and this is a step in the right direction," says City Forester David McAllister, "but the City also needs to invest in public education, technical assistance, planting and maintenance to sustain the urban forest."


"Given expected population growth," Audubon Society's Conservation Director Bob Sallinger points out, "Portland needs stronger tools to preserve and refresh that canopy through the development process . What's on the books won't cut it."


"Dramatic increases in tree planting efforts over the past decade are a positive step toward increasing Portland's tree canopy," says Scott Fogarty, executive director of Friends of Trees and member of the project stakeholder committee. "But it's not enough. The City needs a strong regulatory framework to preserve and enhance the trees we already have." 

To read the Citywide Tree Project Recommended Draft to City Council, including a new project summary, please go to www.portlandonline.com/bps/treeproject. An updated set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) is also available. If you have trouble accessing the online documents, please request a CD or a set of report documents at the phone number and email address below.


For more information, please call 503.823.7855 or email BPSCTP@portlandoregon.gov.

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