Inside Views

Dallasites know that the city’s natural beauty is not what brought us here or keeps us here. Dallas doesn’t have mountains or an ocean or any of the geographical features that commonly draw people to an area.

Dallas does have attractive places to live, though. The most desirable neighborhoods generally have one feature in common — big, beautiful trees, a green canopy that adds immeasurably to the quality of life in those neighborhoods.

In 1993, a task force began work at city hall to craft a tree preservation ordinance. The task force was composed of members whose primary goal was to protect large, old trees and preserve the tree canopy in Dallas, and other members whose primary goal was to have an outcome that wouldn’t hinder land development in the city. After more than a year of work, Dallas had Article 10 of the Development Code — the Tree Preservation Ordinance.

Some task force members felt that Article 10 was more of a tree replacement ordinance, with an emphasis on how to mitigate for trees that were taken down, where the small replacement trees could go, and how big a tree needed to be before it could be “protected.”  There were lists of good trees such as red oaks and live oaks, and lists of bad trees such as hackberries and fruitless mulberries. The bad, or so-called “junk” trees, could be cut down at will and didn’t have to be replaced, no matter how big they were or how many of them there were.

Clear-cutting was allowed in the ordinance as long as mitigation measures were followed. During the past 15 years, there have been some egregious examples of clear-cutting: the Grady Niblo site along Mountain Creek Parkway, one of the prettiest areas in the city; the Pleasant Grove site of a new residential subdivision that, after all the trees were removed, was ironically named Enchanted Forest; and, more recently, the site at Skillman and Northwest Highway, formerly the Timbercreek Apartments, where there were lots of large trees and a beautiful creek that ran through the property. The creek is now in a culvert and the land looks like a moonscape.

There are other weaknesses and loopholes in Article 10 besides clear-cutting. Developers can ask for Planned Development District zoning to avoid the requirements of the tree ordinance. Developers who build new spec homes in existing residential neighborhoods are not required to water the trees on their lots either before or after the houses are built (unless the trees are required by the city as a “screen”). They can destroy any trees they want before they get a building permit. And when builders cement over tree roots to put in a foundation or a driveway, or place construction materials on top of the roots, the new homeowner, who has paid a premium for the large old trees on the lot, gets to watch those trees slowly die.

The single greatest weakness in the current tree ordinance, however, is in the enforcement provisions. City staff who enforce the tree ordinance requirements are unfortunately located in Development Services, which is the department at City Hall that encourages and fosters development in the city. That’s a glaring conflict. In several of the clear-cutting cases mentioned above, Development Services demonstrated a notable lack of will to enforce, which led to greatly reduced fines and reduced or ignored mitigation requirements.  Tree ordinance enforcement personnel need to be located in a more tree friendly department like Parks.

A group of citizens and staff members — the Urban Forestry Advisory Committee — appointed by mayors Miller and Leppert, is currently considering revisions to Article 10. To learn more about the committee and the revisions, visit their website at www.DallasTrees.org. To comment on the current ordinance or the proposed revisions, contact UFAC member Bill Seaman at wm.seaman@tx.rr.com.

Quality of life issues have generally gotten short shrift in Dallas, especially when they compete with development goals; Dallas’s mantra has always been to “keep the dirt flying.”

In a city with few natural resources, it would be good to protect the ones we do have.
 


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  • looker

    I love trees.

    That being said my property is my property. If you want to tell me what to do with my property, then you pay for the water and maintenance.

    If I want to cut one of my 50 year old trees down that’s my right, if I want to plant a tree to grow for another 50 years, that is my right.

    Prior to the WWII, North Dallas was all cotton fields and pastureland. What if the cotton farmers said “No more development.”

    If you dont like what your neighbor is doing with his property, then buy it.

  • Zio

    Welcome to Los Angleles.

  • jhp

    Doesn’t it seem odd that the tree ordinance doesn’t even cover tracts less than 2 acres? This excludes all residential building sites except for the huge 10 million dollar ones in Preston Hollow. Second, doesn’t it seem odd that there is a so-called TRASH TREE. In a city, which desperately needs every tree it can get, one would think that every tree would be a valuable resource and only diseased or broken trees would be considered trash. Me thinks perhaps for speculators, that a trash tree is any tree which is in the way of a bigger garage or swimming pool or driveway. Me thinks perhaps for speculators, the lot size was placed as such so as not to affect the McMansion builders. Me thinks for speculators, that the ordinances were written by a committee which was chaired and run by the speculative builders who single handedly have made Dallas the low quality of life place that it has become. Like the people who continue to try to bring you a turnpike through the great Trinity Forest Park. Like the people who brought you the blinding desert which has replaced Timbercreek trees, the Dallas Development Commission has done the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. Sure they ram-rodded building permits through and made the town seem builder friendly but the bigger picture was supposedly to make Dallas a place where Quality Companies would move to in order to improve the tax base. If they came here at all they went to Frisco or Plano who have more parks.

    By encouraging “no value added” projects they only maintained the old status quo which was to throw money at it until it looked good. “Dirt Skirts” come to mind. There is a reason that the “North Dallas” mentality has become such a cliché. No taste, no value, no character. Perhaps the city leaders need a sensitivity weekend somewhere like Lancaster County Pennsylvania where the Amish still value hard work and a pastoral lifestyle.

  • snh

    I have no confidence in any tree saving committees associated with the City. My neighborhood watched blocks of huge old trees, Magnolias, Oaks, etc. being mowed down during the building of the Drexel Park Hollow Condos on Bandera. They weren’t even given a quick death by cutting down but were just bumped into and mutilated during the building process. Many calls to the so-called City Arborist and Council person only produced assurances to the neighbors that the builders were within their rights. Besides that builders piled gravel around the trunks of crape myrtles in the median which the City also says is their right to use the median as a staging area for equipment and supplies. It was totally frustrating, exhausting and unrewarding trying to get any support from the City. With several blocks of land the builders could have built a complex with trails, grass and greenspace rather than the property line to property line blocks of buildings, many of which today sit unoccupied today.

  • eastdallasguy

    Couldn’t agree more with the enforcement challenges. There was some hope last year when it was announced that Building Inspection would be separated from Development Services. Unfortunately, a combination of personality clashes, department politics, and a meager budget have scuttled this plan. All of the plan review functions of BI plus enforcement functions should be completely separated from Development Services. As it is now, the fox is guarding the chicken coop.