Preserving The Tree Canopy In Tree City

treesBig trees do more than create an ornamental enhancement to our town. They provide shade, cooling, prevent erosion and absorb ground water to alleviate flooding. In 2013 they Conservation Advisory Council found that the Village does little to protect Scarsdale’s tree canopy which at that point stood at about 50%.

After years of consideration on how to safeguard trees, in April 2018 Scarsdale Trustees took some steps to preserve trees and the tree canopy in Scarsdale by passing code changes regarding protection of trees or regulations requiring the replacement of trees with a diameter of more than 24” at breast height( DBH). However they were not able to agree on new code to prevent “clear cutting,” meaning the removal of larger areas or stands of trees, often done by builders when they are renovating or building homes.

Protection of wider areas proved to a be a thorny issue and the Trustees said they would revisit the code later in the year.

Under the current tree code a homeowner is permitted to remove two trees per year without paying a permit fee. The Village does require that you get a permit to remove them for tracking purposes, but there is no fee associated with that permit. Due to the new permitting requirements, the Village Engineer reported that this year there were 270 applications for tree permits vs. 208 last year.

As long as the two trees are less than 24 inch DBH each year you do not need to replace them. If they are 24” or more you do need to replace them. Right now the code requires a 3” DBH replacement but this might be changed to a 2” replacement. The change from 3” to 2” is being considered in order to save residents money and increase the viability of the newly planted tree.

Dead, dying, hazardous or diseased trees can be removed with an evaluation from a tree expert in writing. There is no permit fee to remove trees in this category. You are also not required to plant a replacement for the trees in this category.

There is a list of protected tree species naming trees that cannot be removed including redbuds, birches and amelenchiers (serviceberry).

However these provisions do not address the clear cutting of many trees. At a meeting on Monday night December 10, trustees discussed proposed code that would protect trees in the aggregate.

Specifically the proposed change is that if trees that are 48” DBH or greater in total are cut down (even if the trees are under 24”DBH individually) within a 3 year period then you will need to plant a 3” (but this may go down to 2”) replacement for them. This proposal is to address clear-cutting. Right now a homeowner can take down as many 23.99” trees as they would like and not have to plant a replacement for them. This change to requiring replacements for trees taken out totaling 48” or more (what is called an “aggregate test”) would be one step to preserve the canopy for future generations and address clear-cutting.

The code change includes a step up schedule in the proposal such that the more trees you take out (as measured by aggregate DBH) the more replacements you will need to put in.

The proposed code states:

When an aggregate/total of anywhere from 48” to 120” DBH of trees are removed, one tree is required to be planted for every 24” of DBH between 48" and 120”. So if you took out 48” of trees in aggregate you would only be required to plant one 3” (or 2” if the change is approved) replacement tree. Then for every 24” of trees that are removed above 48”, and up to 120”, one tree will be required to be planted.

When you have over 120” and up to 240” DBH of trees being removed, you then have to plant TWO replacement trees for every 24” of DBH being removed between 120 and 240.

When you have over 240” DBH of trees being removed, you have to plant THREE replacement trees for every 24” of DBH removed over 240.”

Commenting on the proposed code, Trustee Lena Crandall said, “The Conservation Advisory Council has been working on it for years ….The whole idea is to keep Scarsdale with a 50% tree canopy – for flooding water conservation etc…. This is pretty lenient code (when compared to other municipalities.) We already allow people to take down two per year as of right.” Matt Callaghan also supported it saying, “I think it’s simple, enforceable and reasonable.”

Village staff will revise the code per the discussion at the Monday night meeting and schedule a public hearing to review it.