Ordinance changes needed to protect Ann Arbor's landmark trees
The City Council recently approved a 14 story development at 413 E. Huron St. that will eliminate one landmark oak tree on the property and significantly damage the root systems of two landmark trees within 50 feet of the property line, likely resulting in the death of these trees. The City Council was sympathetic but helpless to save these trees in light of the current zoning ordinance, which provides no meaningful protection for landmark trees.
There are three loopholes in the zoning ordinance that result in the destruction of landmark trees. First, a developer can hire a professional arborist, sympathetic to the development, to say that a landmark tree is “unhealthy.” Second, a developer can argue the landmark tree impedes the “reasonable use” of the property, phrasing so vague that using it to reject a project would be indefensible in court. Thirdly, a developer can offer to mitigate the loss of a landmark tree on or within 50 feet of the property line by simply replacing the tree with a few saplings planted in a nearby park. The standards for mitigation are so trivial, it’s equivalent to providing some band aids to a pedestrian who has been rolled over by a car.
Unless the zoning ordinance is changed to provide meaningful protection to landmark trees, Ann’s original arbor will soon be lost forever. To those interested only in balance sheets and downtown density at any cost, that may not matter. But, to those of you who value Ann Arbor’s heritage, please contact your council representative and advocate for strengthening the zoning ordinance to provide real protection for landmark trees.