2015 | News

MoCo Begins Replacing Trees Lost To 'Mansionization'

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Montgomery County on Monday began replacing some of the trees that have been lost to "mansionization" projects over the past year. Because of the number of trees removed and not replaced independently by developers, the county has plenty of money left to do a lot more. County officials gathered to celebrate the planting of 37 shade trees at a low-rise apartment complex on the edge of Rock Creek Park in Chevy Chase. The trees were paid for by developers who removed trees on private single-family home properties, in most cases to build home additions, renovations or new "mini-mansions." County Executive Isiah Leggett's controversial "Tree Canopy" law, which targets the loss of trees during those home rebuild projects, went into effect on March 1, 2014. By March 1, 2015, the county had collected about $350,000 in payments, according to Laura Miller, the forest conservation coordinator with the county's Department of Environmental Protection. Developers who opt not to replace a lost tree are required to pay $250 into the county fund, meaning roughly 1,400 trees were removed to make way for mansionization or other small-scale development over the first year the law was in effect. "There are always people who don't quite appreciate the value and they might take down a few too many trees on their property," Councilmember Hans Riemer said at the event Monday. "The appropriate response from the county I think is to continue to plant more and more trees and so we're always strengthening our canopy rather than losing it." The Department of Environmental Protection is beginning to take those $250 payments and plant new trees as close to the lost trees as possible. In pushing for the law, DEP officials used overhead photos of Bethesda neighborhoods to show what they said was a substantial loss of tree canopy over time because of prevalent mansionization and home teardown projects. Small building companies, many that do business in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, said the county shouldn't be able to legislate how trees on private property are treated. Conservationists alleged the building industry was spreading misinformation about the bill. The trees planted Monday in Chevy Chase — a combination of London planetrees, honey locusts, elms, white oaks and red maples — were planted in spots where storm damage had caused older trees to fail. All have the potential to grow to at least 50 feet tall. Leggett said the trees will provide environmental benefits and shade to cool parking lots, playgrounds, walkways and apartment buildings, as well as some single-family homes. "We are serious about preserving and protecting the environment," Leggett said. Jessica Jones, an outreach manager working on the Tree Montgomery program, said DEP on Monday also planted its first two replacement trees at single-family homes. The department is developing a new website, TreeMontgomery.org, which will provide information on how to apply for trees funded by the law and when and where the county plans to plant. Jones said DEP has had more than 70 requests so far from property owners, based largely on promotion the department did at an event last month in Silver Spring. The department also evaluates tree loss from storm damage and reaches out to property owners, which is how they ended up at the Round Hill Apartments in Chevy Chase. Leggett, Riemer, DEP officials and advocates for the law did a ceremonial tree planting. "That tree canopy legislation was incredibly contentious and I thought it was really remarkable that the county executive brought that forward," Riemer said. "We all survived. The legislation is law and I think it really provided for a big step forward for all of us."