Trees back on agenda

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David Minton/DRC
A bridge runs under a canopy of trees in Cross Timbers Park off Hickory Creek Road on Thursday in Denton.

Council may appoint citizens committee to help preserve canopy

The Denton City Council is poised to appoint yet another citizens committee, this time to help Denton identify tree-filled property the city might buy in order to preserve the fading resource.

Denton County is on the edge of the Cross Timbers, swaths of forest that reach all the way to Kansas, according to Angie Kralik, the city’s urban forester.

But little remains.

When property owners bulldoze the post and blackjack oaks that characterize the county’s native timber, they tend to replant with other trees, such as pecan.

The council heard a report from Kralik during a workshop session earlier this month.

Kralik told the council she wanted feedback before implementing two current ordinance provisions that would stem the loss of trees — to begin purchasing forested land and to foster establishment of tree trusts.

A study found Denton had about 19 percent tree canopy in 2010. The city of Dallas has a 30 percent canopy; San Antonio, 38 percent; Fort Worth, 25 percent; and McKinney, 13 percent.

Urban foresters recommend a city have 35 percent to 40 percent canopy to offset pollution and other urban activities, Kralik said. In addition to their beauty, trees control storm water runoff and help clean and cool the air.

Critics of Denton’s current tree ordinance — whose overhaul has languished since 2007 — say the rules favor mitigation over preservation.

When developers cut down certain trees in Denton, they pay into the city’s mitigation fund. Denton has amassed more than $1.1 million in those fees, Kralik said, and it’s time for the city to start using that money to preserve trees.

She recommended that a citizens committee help set up the criteria for land to purchase. Some council members hoped that the committee could also be tapped to help identify future purchases.

The council is expected to appoint members in the coming months, Kralik said in an interview this week.

The City Council also agreed that Kralik could pursue a consulting contract with another urban forester who would help write procedures for Denton to accept conservation easements.

The city’s current code allows property owners the option to put land into a “tree trust.” While some property owners have expressed an interest in the option, no one has yet taken advantage of it.

“A few times in my one-year tenure here, where a developer was building apartments and they didn’t have the space to replant,” Kralik said. “The cost to pay into the tree fund was over $100,000.”

Such a developer could have purchased land outside the site to mitigate for the loss of trees, but there were too many unanswered questions about how the conservation easement would work, Kralik said.

The option needs work for other landowners who value open space and trees. Rather than succumb to the financial pressure to sell land to developers, they could exercise the financial options that come with a conservation easement.

Conservation easements allow landowners to preserve undisturbed forest and prairie for future generations and, through Denton’s ordinance, could also allow landowners to sell “tree credits” to developers. In other words, the ordinance helps create value for the trees.

Some council members cautioned that those changes in value may also affect the way property tax value is calculated.

Because Connemara Conservancy Foundation has set up and administered many major conservation easements in the area, Denton will likely work with the foundation in the future, Kralik told the council. In addition, the city would also work with the parks department to make sure any easements — which would have to be at least an acre or more of Cross Timbers forest — are properties the department considers desirable.

Soft-surface trails could become a bonus feature of future easements inside Denton, Kralik said.

“We would be able to create greenbelts and provide a unique aesthetic to the city that could provide for generations,” she said.

Council member Jim Engelbrecht questioned whether the city would be removing understory for the trails and compromise forest preservation, but Kralik said that, if there were trails, they would be thin and linear, minimizing such disturbance.

In addition to promoting conservation easements, Engelbrecht said he’d like to see the city promote estate planning and other donations to help preserve trees.

“If we don’t express them as a goal, we won’t get them,” he said.

Kralik told the council she is continuing to work on a master plan that can move Denton toward its goal of 30 percent to 35 percent tree canopy across the city.

Council member Dalton Gregory recommended that the city also figure out a way to bridge the two kinds of numbers it is working with — mitigation is counted in tree inches, while canopy is counted in percent coverage.

“We should be rethinking the ordinance in terms of canopy,” Gregory said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com .


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