On June 15, 2009, Brian Daly , Charlottesville’s Acting Parks and Recreation Director, and Chris Gensic , the Park and Trail Planner, presented the Urban Forest Management Plan to Charlottesville City Council. The plan would enhance and preserve forested areas in the City through monitoring existing trees, planting new trees, and improving public education about the benefits of urban forests. The 2007 Comprehensive Plan established a goal of 40% canopy coverage throughout the City. Gensic said the City has exceeded this overall goal, but some forested areas still need to be expanded in order to have consistent canopy coverage in all areas of the City. The Council approved of the Plan and said they looked forward to seeing how the program could improve Charlottesville’s urban forests.
Gensic described past efforts of Parks and Recreation, such as a tree inventory, a parkland study of invasives, and a tree canopy study. In 2002, a street tree inventory began that recorded species and location of trees on public lands, which was followed up by another inventory in 2008. In 2007, Charlottesville received a Tree City USA designation, a program of the Arbor Day Foundation, recognizing the City’s urban forestry protection efforts. The University of Virginia also helped with forestry efforts: a tree canopy study done by a class in 2006 found the City to have 31-32% tree canopy coverage. However, a 2008 aerial photo analysis showed the City at 46% canopy coverage, exceeding the Comprehensive Plan goal of 40%. Gensic emphasized the Urban Forest Management Plan would help all neighborhoods reach the 40% goal.
“We have actually more tree canopy than buildings, roads, and parking lots combined within the city limits,” said Daly.
Daly stated a photo analysis would have to be done every three to four years to keep track of tree canopy change. He recommended the Council should adopt the plan and establish forest goals by district and zone. He said canopy goals and planting plans should be developed according to the type of area, such as urban, suburban, or entrance corridor.
Daly also presented six key elements of the Urban Forest Management Plan. The strategies included preserving and protecting existing forested areas by increasing land acquisition and specify detailed tree protection practices during construction. They aim to enhance and restore forest quality through the containment of invasives and the addition of trails. Forests will be expanded by aiming to exceed the tree canopy goal in every neighborhood. Trees will also be monitored to document their health and track the progress of the forests. There will be an increase in education and outreach with planting and volunteer projects. Finally, the plan will be sustained with codes and guides for citizens and developers.
Mayor Dave Norris commended Parks and Recreation on putting together the plan and said it demonstrated a great deal of detailed analysis. “I got a real sense from you tonight that this is just the beginning and you’re really committed to seeing this plan put into effect,” said Norris. At an April 2009 press conference , Norris outlined his specific priorities for a “Greener Charlottesville,” including an increase in tree canopy.
Councilor Satyendra Huja asked Daly if trees could be protected on private property. Daly responded that the most they could do was educate the property owner about how to properly care for and maintain trees. He also said part of the plan is to look at legal solutions for tree protection, possibly leading to new legislation.
Councilor David Brown reiterated this point and said he hoped Parks and Recreation could encourage private tree planting. Daly said there are grant opportunities to obtain trees for public distribution and he agreed the citizen must be educated. Brown questioned if the number of trees developers are required to plant should be pushed higher and recommended it as a topic to be looked at in the future.
Norris agreed requirements should be strengthened because he did not believe City Council could do as much to strengthen the volunteer aspect of urban forestry management. He also said he would like to see the City purchase more green space throughout city limits.
Colette Hall , the President of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association, spoke about the removal of trees in her area and proposed the possibility of a real estate tax rebate as a financial incentive to plant trees on private property.
“I don’t think there’s a month goes by where I don’t hear the sound of a tree being taken down,” Hall said. “Whatever education we need to do for our citizens, it’s not been done at least in the last 20 years because trees are being taken down at an alarming rate on private property.”
Norris agreed with the idea of a financial incentive and recommended Parks and Recreation look into a program for tree planting that is similar to the rebate programs for low flow toilets and rain barrels .
The Councilors made multiple suggestions for Parks and Recreation’s Urban Management Forestry Plan and stressed the importance of regulations on private property tree removal. Daly listened to all of their advice and Norris told him to keep City Council updated on the progress of the program.
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