The City of Asheville is considering amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to require, promote and incentivize the preservation, enhancement and future expansion of the City’s tree canopy.
As supported by Living Asheville (the City’s recently adopted comprehensive plan), the Urban Tree Canopy Study and the NASA DEVELOP Urban Heat Island study, City staff have drafted an ordinance focused on the preservation, enhancement and expansion of the City’s tree canopy as it relates to private land development activity. This ordinance amendment will introduce new requirements for tree canopy preservation and enhancement for all new buildings, new open uses of land (such as parking lots) and expansions of at least 1,500 square feet for buildings and 3,000 square feet for open uses of land. This new section to the UDO will replace the requirements for Tree Save Areas as currently found in Section 7-11-3(d)7. The new Section will work with tree canopy area to preserve canopy and place heavy incentives upon the preservation of existing canopy.
For the average citizen, understanding the details of the proposed ordinance amendment can be challenging. That's why Asheville GreenWorks offered a webinar on the the Tree Canopy Preservation Ordinance (TCPO) Amendment. The recording of the webinar, which included a brief presentation on the ordinance amendment by Chris Collins, Site Planning & Development Manager at City of Asheville, and Q&A with Chris Collins, Ed Macie of the Urban Forestry Commission and Dawn Chávez of Asheville GreenWorks, can be viewed here:
General Highlights from the Webinar
While the TCPO amendment does not achieve zero net tree canopy loss for the City of Asheville, it is an important first step in reversing the trend of losing trees due to the pressures of development.
City officials have given a verbal commitment to establishing a Zero Net Canopy Loss Policy. To that end, the Urban Forestry Commission will submit a Zero Net Canopy Loss resolution to the City Council, for a vote, to complement the Tree Protection Amendment. This resolution promotes an array of policies, management strategies, partnerships, and programs to protect and enhance our urban forest.
Part of the management strategy will be the staffing of a full time professional urban forester, and the development of a comprehensive urban forestry master plan.
Please join us in urging City Council to pass this amendment. Public comment can be submitted in a number of ways:
1. Send a letter to City Council with this easy-to-use form.
2. Leave a pre-recorded voicemail: call 855-925-2801, then enter code 7725.
3. Submit written comments by emailing [email protected].
4. Call in live by signing up in advance at ashevillenc.gov/comments or by calling the Clerk’s office at 828-259-5900, no later than noon Aug. 24. In order to be added to the list of speakers, an individual must provide his/her name, area of residence, phone number the caller will use to listen to the meeting live and join the speaker queue, the item the individual is commenting on (Examples: Consent Agenda, Public Hearing A, Open Public Comment), and an alternative form of contact (for example: text number, email address or a different phone line if a land line will be used to call into the meeting).
*The item to comment on is "Public Hearing B"
By: Susan Sertain, member of the Tree Protection Task Force and Asheville resident for over 20 years
Please consider joining us on Wednesday, August 15th at 5pm for a webinar presentation and discussion about the upcoming Tree Canopy Preservation Amendment vote. Register here.
Did you know that the city of Asheville does not have any existing ordinances, policies, or programs in place to preserve its urban forest canopy?
The Urban Forestry Commission and the Division of Development Services have created a Tree Canopy Preservation Amendment that will be presented at the City Council meeting on August 25, 2020. This amendment to the city’s Unified Development Code would give developers the flexibility to build their projects, while at the same time helping to preserve existing tree canopy.
In 2019, an Urban Tree Canopy Study was commissioned by the City of Asheville and the Urban Forestry Commission. Over a 10 year period, Asheville experienced a 6.4 percent tree canopy loss, 891 acres of trees or 675 football fields! This study provided a look into our city’s canopy loss and provided some valuable information.
In the midst of a global climate crisis, and when our city leaders declared a Climate Emergency, many towns and cities across the nation and around the globe are creating ordinances and resolutions, and forming groups to focus on saving their existing trees, as well as planting many more. But we still have not .
Asheville City officials have given a verbal commitment to establishing a Zero Net Loss Canopy Policy but a written resolution will be presented with the Ordinance Tree Protection Amendment at City Council Meeting on August 25, 2020.
50,000 Trees in Asheville by 2040
Asheville will need to plant 50,000 trees by 2040, in order to restore our urban tree canopy to 50% coverage. GreenWorks is committed to this community goal through our Urban Forestry program and partnering with the city, county, and other community groups. To reach this goal, we will need to plant 2,500 trees per year - the question is, how fast will the rest of the trees be cut down?
With the City of Asheville continuing to grow, the pressure to build more densely, to cut down trees on public and private property, including gullies and slopes and removing trees just to clear the view, is becoming intense.
Use the slider to view development of the Upstream Way Luxury Vacation Rentals above Amboy Rd. Provided by Brooke Heaton, https://www.avltrees.org/before-after
The Environmental Value of Trees
What happens to the area where the lot has been cleared of almost all, if not all, of the trees in order to build? What happens when that mature, 150 year old tree is cut down to make room for a septic tank or a driveway? When even a small area of the urban forest is cut and all of the trees removed, these benefits are removed as well.
Environmental benefits including:
Social and public health benefits including the reduction of:
The Economic Value of Trees
We know that Asheville is loved by tourists from all over the world and many come back to live here. We can understand that hotels and housing is necessary. It is also necessary to seriously consider the economic benefits of keeping our urban forest: improving retail and tourist environments; increasing property values; decreasing storm water treatment costs; reducing energy consumption and electricity costs.
Asheville's urban forest, in 2018, collected 65,000 tons of carbon, a value of $3,000,000 per year. An urban forest can also reduce 18 million gallons of stormwater runoff per year. What happens if our urban forest continues to be cut down, when it is already doing so much good for Asheville’s energy transition goals and climate resilience?
Learn more about the benefits of trees.
Trees and Extreme Heat
At the 2019 Climate Change and Asheville’s Urban Forest symposium, the NASA DEVELOP Team reported on “Tree Cover and Asheville’s Urban Heat Islands,” a term used when describing a city being hotter than the countryside. Where buildings, concrete, and streets create an envelope of warm air making the city an island of heat and also increasing air pollution. This phenomenon is now made worse by the climate crisis.
The team reported that the impacts of extreme heat are disproportionately affecting marginalized communities with very little tree canopy cover. These areas showed elevated surface temperatures of 10 degrees higher than the tree filled communities in Asheville. Extreme heat can exacerbate existing health problems, causing heat-related illnesses and deaths among vulnerable populations.
What is the Urban Forestry Commission and the Tree Protection Task Force Doing?
These studies and their results were presented to the city along with a plea for an Urban Forester and a Master Plan. The pandemic has taken away any money that could have been used to allow that to happen while the cutting down of trees continues. Asheville prides itself on being a Tree City USA for 39 years and now acknowledges the urgent need to correct the history of social and environmental injustice.
With these commitments in mind, an Ordinance Amendment for Tree Preservation and a Resolution for a Zero Net Loss Canopy Policy are needed now more than ever.
This Ordinance will:
The goal of the Urban Forestry Commission and Division of Development Services is to promote an array of policies, management strategies, partnerships and programs to protect and enhance our Urban Forest, a legacy that we have the privilege to live in and care for.
Contact City Council Officials
Please contact our city officials to tell them your concerns and to urge them to say Yes to this Tree Canopy Preservation Amendment to the City Ordinance and to accept the written resolution of the Zero Net Canopy Loss Resolution.
Email all of City Council at [email protected]
Mayor Esther Manheimer – [email protected]
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler – [email protected]
Brian Haynes – [email protected]
Julie Mayfield – [email protected]
Sheneika Smith – [email protected]
Keith Young – [email protected]
Can you ever remember getting into a bad mood when you were walking in the woods? Well, increasingly researchers are finding that taking a walk in the woods, or even looking out a window at trees, significantly improves our mood. I bet you already knew that at some level – and now there is hard, scientific evidence to support your gut feeling. Doesn’t that feel good?
In the Dec, 2019 issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology researchers reported that even five minutes in nature enhanced participants’ mood and sense of well-being.
In the Winter, 2019 issue of Audubon, several well-respected psychologists report that “contact with nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health, and our cognitive functioning.”
Another big benefit: Researchers have found that children diagnosed with ADHD have milder symptoms when they regularly play in green play settings. Add to that all the ecological and economic benefits we know that an urban forest can provide, and it is a no-brainer: We need more trees in Asheville, and we need to have this urban forest managed so that we can all derive the ecological, economic and psychological benefits that research tells us is available from urban forests.
By implementing the Comprehensive Urban Forest Master Plan, Asheville’s City Council could make all these benefits available to ALL Asheville residents at no additional cost.
So get out there and hug a tree. You will feel better!
Cathy Walsh, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society
Chair, External Relations and Advocacy, Tree Protection Task Force
“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Joyce Kilmer
Trees are lovely, and beyond their aesthetic virtue, the important role trees play in our environment as bulwarks against the ravages of climate change are well known and documented.
But let us talk about something less recognized, yet equally important: birds.
Birds, you say? It's quite simple: Birds need trees, and trees need birds for seed dispersal and reforestation. Birds perch in trees, nest in trees, roost in trees and eat the insects that live in and on trees.
One of my earliest memories is taking naps under the two oak trees in our front yard, waking up to the song of the birds around us. Thus began my love of birds – a love shared by millions of birdwatchers in the U.S., and locally by members of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society.
The relationship between birds and trees is yet another measure available to us in assessing the role our urban tree canopy plays in our environment and in our society. We need to recognize this tremendous asset and the need to protect it by providing a guardian and a plan for this treasure that Asheville is so fortunate to have.
I encourage you to share your memories of what trees and birds meant to you as a means of demonstrating the need for an urban forester to manage an urban forest master plan for Asheville.
Share your thoughts.
Cathy Walsh, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society
Chair, External Relations and Advocacy, Tree Protection Task Force
Unfortunately, city trees just don’t grow and take care of themselves, and growing trees in cities is difficult because of a broad range of urban conditions and human influences. A healthy urban forest requires an investment. The return on that investment is measured as “ecosystem services”. So, the formula for a successful and sustainable urban forest might look like this:
Investment in urban forests (a strategic, planned and implemented approach towards protecting, enhancing canopy, and increasing longevity) = a long lived, healthy urban forest = maximum ecosystem services.
Those most significant to Asheville include the increase in stormwater runoff, (costing the city $1,600,000); the loss of carbon storage ($6,850,000), and the decrease in air pollution removal ($23,500). What this study didn’t calculate are the subsequent increases in health-related costs and mortality associated with urban heat island effect and increased air pollution, nor did it put a value on the decreases in water quality.
Just factoring storm water, air quality, and carbon storage, the city has lost an average of $850,000 in ecosystem services per year, over the ten-year study period. This is the cost of doing nothing!
A 2014 national survey of urban forestry programs in 667 cities, funded by the National Urban and Community Forestry Council, has shown that the national average of community per capita investment in urban forestry is $8.76. Last year the City of Asheville spent only $5.14 per capita, and if you subtract what the city paid for tree removal, brush pickup up, and chipping, the city’s per capita expenditure for tree maintenance is only $1.73. It is no wonder we are losing canopy as such an alarming rate!
The city can reverse this trend of doing nothing by investing in an urban forester and developing a strategic urban forest management plan. The cost of this first step is only a fraction of the ecosystem services losses the city is currently suffering, and will go a long way towards building an environmental return on the taxpayers investment.
Author: Ed Macie, Urban Forester; Chair, Tree Protection Task Force; Board Member, Asheville GreenWorks
The Asheville Urban Forestry Commission (AUFC), Asheville GreenWorks, and the Tree Protection Task Force have stirred up a lot of community interest in recent months about the need for the City to hire a professional urban forester and develop an urban forest master plan. Why is there such interest in urban forestry management in Asheville? Don't we already have a city arborist who takes care of tree-related matters?
The second study was an urban forest canopy assessment. This study was conducted to identify changes in total tree cover over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2018. Canopy cover can be thought of as the “canary in the coal mine” for cities, because science-based models equate changes in canopy to environmental conditions important to our daily lives and for fighting climate change impacts locally. These conditions include air quality, urban heat island, management of stormwater runoff, energy conservation and carbon sequestration.
Both studies pointed to the same overall conclusions. Our urban forest is in trouble, urban tree canopy is decreasing, there is the need for better, planned and coordinated management of our urban trees, the need for stronger tree protection policy, and the overall need for the City of Asheville to change its urban forestry mindset.
We no longer have the luxury to take our urban forest for granted, but instead have to make it a priority in our everyday decision making.
In order for this to happen, the City must do two things immediately: 1) Hire a professional urban forester to enable this priority “eyes on” approach to decision making; and 2) develop a comprehensive urban forest master plan to embark on a coordinated and strategic approach to improving the condition if this critical natural resource.
Why an Urban Forester?
Unlike an arborist, who focuses on the management of individual trees, an urban forester employs a systems-based approach to urban forest management. The urban forest is an ecosystem, and its management focus is on maximizing the forest’s ability to provide us its life supporting benefits, while minimizing its risks.
An urban forester for the City of Asheville would provide cross-departmental coordination, review of development plans for tree protection, field enforcement of tree regulations, maintenance of a tree inventory database and oversight for the implementation of the City’s Comprehensive Urban Forest Master Plan.
None of these activities currently exist within the city’s ability today, and without this capacity, the city’s tree canopy will continue to decline.
Why an Urban Forest Master Plan?
The Urban Forest Master Plan will enable a strategic and coordinated approach to managing our urban forest. The product of a community-wide urban forest planning effort will allow for these following types of strategies:
Again, none of these activities currently exist within the city’s current capacity.
While the City is taking steps to strengthen its tree protection ordinance, this step is not enough to restore our urban forest and provide for its future health. We all have to impress upon our elected officials the importance of protecting our urban forest as the most cost-effective way to offset both the negative impacts of extreme land development pressures and the localized impact of climate change.
Urban Forest Consultant
Member, Asheville Urban Forestry Commission
Member, Asheville GreenWorks Board of Directors
Chair, Tree Protection Task Force