The city of Gainesville went out on a limb in January to propose the regulation of trees throughout the city.

Opinion on a proposed tree ordinance has been mixed.

A draft ordinance, to be known as the city of Gainesville Tree Preservation Regulations, was approved on second reading in a City Council meeting Feb. 21, but did not receive a third reading.

The Gainesville City Charter provides for three readings of proposed ordinances at separate City Council meetings before they are passed. The Council may vote to suspend the charter to pass an ordinance on first reading or second reading, but they did not chose to do so with the tree ordinance.

The tree ordinance draft is up for discussion again 4 p.m. April 11 in a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

“The intent of the ordinance itself was to regulate new development,” said John Nobiltt, Gainesville.planning technician.

Noblitt said “new development” is anything from a new apartment complex, subdivision or a new house being built on a lot.

Existing houses and businesses are not affected by the proposed ordinance as it is currently written, he said.

Noblitt said the third reading of the tree ordinance was tabled and has gone back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for revision.

“It kicked up in January,” he said of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation that the city adopt it at a city council meeting that month.

Since it became a City Council agenda item, Noblitt said he has received several calls, both complimentary and critical of the plan. He said there are five to 10 calls per day to his office on the subject.

“There were valid questions, and there were some conflicts in the way it was written,” he said.

He noted as an example the city has no horticulturist, to which the ordinance makes reference.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is now comparing the ordinance draft against the city’s existing landscaping ordinance, and consulting the Texas Forestry Service.

Rosalie Reiter, Gainesville resident, said the draft ordinance was “just slightly wordy” and would complicate the work of potential developers.

“My objection is there will be so many rules and regulations no one will want to build around here,” Reiter said. “ I do understand there has to be some rules and regulations, but they should be minimal.”

Reiter said Gainesville has not grown as much as it should in recent years.

Don Wiese, Gainesville resident, a former forester and a natural resource manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, wrote to Mayor Glenn Loch supporting the ordinance but noted some problems with the wording.

“I think it’s a progressive step for the city,” Wiese said in an interview. “We don’t have a lot of development as other cities south of us do. But this will help us stay ahead of the curve a bit, and take care of the quality trees we have — the natural trees on undeveloped land.”

He said Gainesville has many trees in the low-lying areas but few as you reach the “uplands.”

“I think the exemption of existing single-family and two-family homes is a smart move,” he said in the letter. “In my experience, the great majority of homeowners are managing their trees very well and it would be an unnecessary burden to subject them to the ordinance.”

Noblitt said the reason the Planning and Zoning Commission proposed the ordinance to begin with is to protect the trees as natural resources of the city. The goal is not simply to preserve aesthetic beauty or property value.

“Our intent isn’t to keep a property owner from doing what he wants to on his property. Part of the intent is to put in a system of checks and balances ...” he said.

Noblitt said there are many smaller, suburban cities, such as McKinney or Allen, that are adopting tree ordinances.

“Trees do a lot of things you don’t realize they do,” he said.

Established trees help aid water drainage, serve as wind blockers and help control soil erosion, he said.

Newly planted trees cannot offer those same qualities, he said.

The city of Gainesville established a small tree farm southwest of the Frank Buck Zoo so more trees may be planted throughout the city. He said the trees were obtained through a grant from the state. The tree farm has not been used much, yet, he said.

According to the draft tree ordinance, it is intended “to promote the preservation of healthy quality trees, tree stands, to protect trees during construction, to facilitate site design and construction that contribute to the long term viability of existing trees which improves environmental conditions, specifically to comply with air and water quality regulations, to increase property values and to develop a process to control the removal of trees.”

Another goal is to preserve “historic trees.”

The ordinance applies to undeveloped land, all property to be re-developed (including additions or alterations which require the removal of trees), right of way, streets, parks and other public property under the jurisdiction of the city.

Exemptions would be granted to developments which have completed applications and final or preliminary plats as of the date the ordinance becomes law, capital improvement projects approved prior to the date the ordinance becomes law, the Gainesville Municipal Airport, tree nurseries and property on which a single-family or two-family dwelling already exists.

The draft ordinance contends public utilities workers have a right to trim, but and/or remove any and all trees which intervene with utilities or create a safety issue for workers or the general public.

The draft ordinance forbids the destruction, cutting down or removal of a “quality tree.”

Quality trees are defined as trees with a “diameter breast height” (or dbh — the tree trunk diameter at a height of 4.5 inches above the ground level) of 3 inches. Trees less than 3 inches dbh may be removed without a permit.

A permit is also required for the removal of five or more trees on a single-family lot. Exemptions are made if the tree becomes a potential danger due to unhealthy condition of the tree or an act of nature.

A permit review process is also allowed in the draft ordinance, giving power to the community services director of the city to adopt rules for the permitting and approval. Any application fee would be set by the City Council.

A class of “protected trees” is also listed. Protected trees including any healthy tree with an 18-inch or greater dbh and not in a quality tree stand or a Mesquite, Bois d’ Arc, Locust, Hackberry, or Cottonwood species.

A notation is to be made on any plat or site plan identifying each “quality tree” or protected tree.

Noblitt said the city’s landscaping code would regulate the type of trees to be planted in various kinds of new developments.

Questions on the draft tree ordinance may be directed to Noblitt at 668-4504. City Hall may be reached at 668-4500.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net