Protection may soon be on the way for beloved trees in Lewes.
The city has an ordinance in place for street trees – those planted between the curb and the sidewalk – but it does not have any rules or regulations regarding trees on private property. That may soon change, as the planning commission has formed a subcommittee, chaired by Commissioner Debra Evalds, which is tasked with drafting an ordinance to address all trees, public and private, within city limits. The subcommittee’s first meeting was held July 7.
Joining Evalds from the planning commission are Richard Innes and Joe Hoechner. Ex officio members include Mardi Thompson, the tree commissioner on the parks and recreation commission, and Marylinda Maddi. Evalds said Thompson’s position will allow the subcommittee to steer clear of writing ordinances that are already on the books. Evalds said Maddi gained valuable experience in examining trees and instituting a tree ordinance while in Fox Chapel, Pa.
Researching how surrounding municipalities have implemented tree ordinances – Rehoboth Beach has one – is something officials will be doing as they determine what best fits Lewes. Subcommittee members believe it is important to educate residents about the benefits of planting the right tree in the right place. The geography of Lewes can vary from property to property, and certain species of trees absorb more water than others, while others have sprawling root systems that could interfere with utility lines or other plant life.
Planning and Development Officer Janelle Cornwell said she will work with Parks and Marina Administrator Janet Reeves to create a webpage dedicated to the subcommittee. Officials also agreed to digitally publish informative brochures containing tips about best planting practices for a specific tree in a particular area. During the meeting, for instance, Thompson said she avoids planting near Board of Public Works utility lines, doesn’t plant tall trees underneath utility lines, and takes into consideration the stormwater management in the area.
Heritage trees, a term often brought up when referring to important trees around Lewes, could be at the center of any ordinance. Trees that could be protected by an ordinance include the bride and groom trees planted on private property along Kings Highway. According to Maddi, Lewes has only one Delaware Big Tree, a hackberry tree in the St. George’s AME cemetery off Pilottown Road, but it could have more if steps are taken to apply for such a status.
Recent studies have indicated that the higher percentage of tree canopy coverage a community has, the lower the utility rates. There are other benefits to increasing a city’s canopy coverage as well – such as cleaner air – which is why Lewes passed a resolution in November 2021 to raise its canopy to 38%. The last time the Delaware Forest Service conducted satellite imaging to determine canopy coverage in 2018-19, Lewes’ coverage was 34.2%.
The subcommittee’s next meeting will be held at 5 p.m., Monday, July 18, at the Rollins Community Center. Subcommittee members urge anyone who’s concerned about protecting trees to attend future meetings.