Although the City has already surpassed its goal of having a tree canopy of 40% , the Charlottesville Planning Commission continues to debate ways to build upon that goal and further protect the City’s trees. Commissioners discussed the issue at a work session on August 25, 2009.

The City’s Department of Parks and Recreation created an Urban Forest Management Plan to help achieve the 40% goal, a key objective called for in the City’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. The tree canopy initiative was one of seven priorities outlined during City Council’s retreat in September 2008 . In April 2009, Mayor Dave Norris presented a “ Proposal for a Greener Charlottesville ” in order to increase the City’s tree canopy from 32% to 40% coverage.

However, Park and Trail Planner Chris Gensic revealed to Council on June 15, 2009, that analysis of aerial photographs of the City indicated that the tree canopy was already at 46%, but that not all neighborhoods and areas of the City were consistent.

Since then, City staff have further analyzed data on the City’s tree canopy coverage to zero in on specific neighborhoods and entrance corridors where the percentage could be increased. Staff investigated each neighborhood and compared them against American Forestry Standards for urban, suburban, and central business district areas. Staff provided the Planning Commission with maps showing tree canopy coverage based on areas such as schools, parks, and watersheds. For instance, Preston Avenue and West Main Street are particular areas where the canopy could be increased.

Staff has also been working with city arborist, Tim Hughes, to develop a “best management practice” manual for preserving and protecting trees during construction.

Neighborhood Planner Ebony Walden said the next step will involve determining areas where trees should be planted and noted that staff have looked at models from around the country to develop a manual for design standards.

Commissioner Bill Emory, who serves on the Urban Forest Management Plan committee, expressed concern that executing a tree canopy initiative of this magnitude may lead to an unfavorable outcome. He said the City commissioned a street tree plan in 1975, but it was never implemented. Emory emphasized the value of using tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and incorporating input from the community to make the urban forest management plan one that will work for the next twenty years.

In moving forward with the tree canopy initiative, Commissioners agreed that discrepancies among statistical figures will need to be addressed in order to determine the most effective planting locations. For example, within the Hydraulic Road entrance corridor, the percentage of canopy coverage seemed questionably high for an area composed mostly of pavement. There was also uncertainty as to whether calculations for other parcels within the City included street trees in the percentages generated. Once these figures are verified, the City will have a better picture of the areas of most concern and can carry on to the next step of the initiative.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

01:00 – Neighborhood Planner Ebony Walden provides status update on tree canopy initiative
03:23 – Jason Pearson welcomes new Planning Commission members John Santoski and Kurt Keesecker
06:28 – Planning Manager Missy Creasy begins Planning Commission introductions
10:24 – Jason Pearson discusses work plan priorities
11:35 – Ebony Walden continues overview of tree canopy initiative
12:24 – Bill Emory provides comment
19:40 – Jason Pearson poses process-level questions to staff
20:03 – Ebony Walden responds to question
23:32 – Dan Rosensweig expresses concern over statistical numbers generated by staff
24:29 – Ebony Walden responds
24:45 – Planning staff member Nick Rogers provides comment
27:30 – Michael Osteen provides comment
29:48 – Jason Pearson provides comment
33:25 – Genevieve Keller poses question over examining projections on health of tree canopy
34:23 – Ebony Walden responds
35:20 – Bill Emory provides final comment

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