Rehoboth officials branch out on tree ordinance

City looks to make legislation easier to understand
July 24, 2016

Rehoboth Beach officials have begun talks on how to increase the number of trees in the city and at a July 18 meeting, the city commissioners branched out in all kinds of directions.

Among those directions are improving the city’s tree ordinance to make it easier to understand and use, reaching out to the community to increase the number of larger trees on private property, and giving homebuilders more flexibility and incentives to plant more trees.

City Arborist Liz Lingo said the city could take a number of steps to both increase trees on public land and also encourage people to plant trees on private property. She suggested changes to the tree code such as updating the list of trees that can be planted, tree-for-tree replacement of trees instead of mitigation, changing the minimum tree density of three trees on a lot and building incentives into the tree ordinance to encourage more planting, such as reducing off-street parking requirements in exchange for a larger tree.

Lingo also suggested involving the community in the process, with measures such as giving away a free tree to new residents, a memorial tree program and launching an interactive tree map where people can see the trees on their property.

Mayor Sam Cooper said one thing the current tree ordinance is missing is an overall goal of what the city wants to accomplish through the legislation. He said the problem with the current ordinance is that every tree is sacrosanct and it does not allow homeowners flexibility to take down and replace trees that may not be appropriate for the area. Robert Schnepfe, 110 Rodney St., said he has far more than the three trees required by law but has two holly trees he would like to get rid of because they are a nuisance. However, he said the process of getting a permit to remove them is very cumbersome.

Commissioner Toni Sharp said she would like to see the city make the ordinance as easy as possible to use and understand. Commissioner Paul Kuhns agreed, saying the current ordinance is long and confusing for people.

Cooper said an update of the ordinance needs to do more to encourage more trees on private property. He said the city should encourage larger trees instead of smaller ornamental trees, such as crepe myrtles. He said he would like the city to create more buzz about trees with the public, although he did not suggest how to do this.

Jennifer Duncan, 68 Kent St., said she was concerned about the parks in the Pines area of town, Deer and Central parks. She said these parks are not well-maintained and Deer Park in particular is being overrun by English ivy, choking the life out of trees in the park. Duncan said the city should give Lingo a staff to help keep the city parks clear.

Citizens at the meeting decided to take matters into their own hands and on the spot formed a volunteer group to help clear up the parks. Board of Adjustment member Lynne Wilson even coined a name for the group: the Ivy League.

John Neal, 225 Norfolk St., said the commissioners should establish money and a budget if they want citizens to plant trees. He suggested the city provide free trees through a lottery system that would encourage people to plant on private property.

Also at issue was the question of just how to replace trees that are replaced. The city currently has a mitigation fund that allows those who cut down trees to pay for the cost of a replacement. Lingo suggested a tree-for-tree replacement scheme, which Cooper was skeptical of because it could be impractical. Kathy Osterholm, 107 Hickman St., said people shouldn’t be able to pay their way out of replacing trees they cut down.

While the commissioners liked the ideas coming forth, what they couldn’t agree on was how to move forward. Cooper wanted to create a working group to study changes to the tree ordinance. However, Kuhns said the city could revise the ordinance as they go along. Commissioner Patrick Gossett said the city can get momentum on things like citizens removing ivy in the parks and parallel that with addressing trees on private property.

The commissioners tasked Lingo and City Manager Sharon Lynn to come back at the commissioners’ Monday, Aug. 8 workshop meeting with a list of short-term tree goals.

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