MF Council nixes proposed tree rules

GLYNIS CRAWFORD SMITH/THE HIGHLANDER
Heritage trees like the one between Avenues H and G near Ranch to Market Road 1431 in Marble Falls retain some protections in city ordinances, but the city council rejected proposals from a tree committee, the Planning & Zoning Commission and city staff for an ordinance with more teeth to protect, not only heritage trees, but all of the city's tree canopy.

By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

The City of Marble Falls will have to continue to depend on aspects of existing rules that regulate tree removal, following action by the city council Tuesday, June 21.

Council members voted unanimously against a revision of the Landscape Ordinance following a second hearing of the Tree Preservation and Protection ordinance proposal.

The proposal had grown out of work by a Tree Ordinance Committee created in 2011 and work since by the Planning & Zoning Commission. The P&Z voted unanimously to send the recommendations to the council and they were recommended by city staff as well.

Mary Ellen Goff, the citizen who first spearheaded an effort to protect the city's tree canopy, and Darlene Oostermeyer, a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, both addressed the council.

“Much work has gone in to what you have before you today,” said Goff.

“I am a biologist by training and a Master Naturalist by choice,” said Oostermeyer, outlining the environmental virtues of maintaining mature trees in the city. “I urge you to pass this ordinance.”

Builders and developers had returned to the meeting as well, however, and they insisted the ordinance amounted to over-regulated and over-complicated rules that were likely to drive up the cost of building and development. And, they defended their industry's responsibility in tree preservation.

“Every builder here I know is an advocate of preserving trees,” said Matt Fields.

“I've built in Austin where they have this ordinance in place,” said Steve Nash. “They have to have an arborist on staff.”

In turn council members voiced their concerns about costs that would be imposed by tree surveys and mitigation for tree removal.

Council Member Ryan Nash suggested that local topography was too varied to apply the rules evenly.

“I am an environmental engineer,” said new Council Member Craig Magerkurth. “(But) I can't abide this much government...this kind of bureaucracy.”

“No one up here doesn't like trees,” said Mayor John Packer. “But this looks like more government, more regulation and more expensive housing.”

Following an executive session at the end of the meeting, the council the council approved a three percent increase for Hodge. His current annual salary is $149,350.

Also on the agenda was a detailed discussion of the various effects on water and wastewater rates of the proposed $8 million in bonds to fund infrastructure improvements in the city.

“The last water rate increase was in 2013,” said Finance Director Margie Cardenas. “The last sewer rate increase was in 2010.”

Having decided water and wastewater improvements were imperative, the council used the information to weigh the management and effects of utility increases over future years, beginning most likely with a 12 percent increase.

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