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Posted on Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 5:45 a.m.

Ordinance changes needed to protect Ann Arbor's landmark trees

By Letters to the Editor

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.

Jeff Crockett
Ann Arbor


Jeff Crockett

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

Ann Arbor is known as Tree Town because its name is derived from a stand of oak trees, a few of which still exist in the downtown area, and because many of our citizens value and want to protect our heritage trees. My Letter To The Editor was predicated on the belief that, if a town envisions itself as a Tree Town, it bears a special responsibility to create laws that meaningfully protect heritage trees. The current laws provide only token protection. They are a sham. That does not mean that the people who want to protect heritage trees are anti-development. But, there is a way for heritage trees and responsible development to co-exist if our elected representatives and planning department staff create buffers between high rises and important natural features. If the City Council opts to keep the current zoning as it is, then Tower Town would a more meaningful nickname for Ann Arbor than Tree Town.

pooh bear

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 8:28 p.m.

mr. Shepard is incorrect when he states the oak tree was planted. The burr oaks in the Old Fourth Ward and Kerrytown area were here BEFORE the city was founded. They are what gave our city it's name--the Arbor part. The areas on N. Division at Ann, near St. Andrew's Church, Lawrence Street and near the Treasure Mart on Detroit street all have these massive native burr oaks. That is what is so sad about this situation. We really are losing part of our heritage.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

I'm gonna guess, and guess it is, that many supporting this position live in houses that were built with "Landmark" tree timber.

Cendra Lynn

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 1:31 a.m.

Um, Sir and or Madame No-Name (as the case may be): The Council DID have a choice. They could have said no and the developer was not likely to win in court. There were many letters about this. To protect a tree, say NO to something that threatens it. The public will support a council that heeds their wishes. We no longer will support those who don't.

sandy schopbach

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

I'm getting pretty fed up with this Downtown Density subject. Ann Arbor is not Manhattan. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Building tall apartment buildings chock-a-block up against the sidewalk with little or no setback, removing trees, casting shadows on the surrounding houses... that is not a way to make friends and influence people. A little bit was fine, especially in the Right Places, like on Main Street in the downtown area, but now this trend is being extended to residential areas. It's indeed called Ann ARBOR, not Ann TOWERS. Please stop saying yes to these projects.

Dog Guy

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

Ann Arbor shall have orange steel landmark trees wherever The Boss wants.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

How sad, I would rather have the trees then the buildings.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

Extremes are always a problem. Everybody loves trees, but once we start naming them "nascence", "invasive", "protected" or even "landmark", the public often loses perspective in the name. It seems that planting a new tree after a property owner builds something on their property is no longer good enough cause it's not the original tree? There are about zero "original" trees in Michigan since the state was virtually clear cut to open land for farming as well as to build cities in the mid-west, including Chicago. Had the state not been clear cut, there would be little difference since, hello, most trees only live 50 years. There are trees that live less then 20. That oak tree was planted and will die with our without development and other trees will do the same. When the emerald ash borer and other pests came through and killed hundreds of thousands of trees, did the planet explode?? Glaciers came through 30,000 years ago and scraped a Michigan mountain range flat …yet here we are. Make yourself an herbal tea, kick off your Birkenstocks, flop down in your bean bag chair, take a breath and get some perspective.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 10:53 p.m.

You don't get it. It does not matter how old the trees are. They are planted, live and die just like every other weed or plant. There is nothing special about an old tree and in fact many of the newly planted tree that have been genetically engineered to withstand contemporary pests and conditions would be an improvement. Tell those with a blown over 200 year old tree thru their roof that it was a "landmark" tree as defined by some desk jockey at City Hall and I'm sure he'll be impressed. We demand immediacy - planting a tree is not good enough simply because you'll be long gone by the time it matures. LOL This is about the narcissism Ann Arbor residents who think they are special - should be wearing t-shirts that say "I'm here now - the earth is mine!"


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

I'll get some perspective when you get some knowledge of forestry. The trees in that neighborhood near 413 are thought to be original trees in the sense that they were here per-settlement, perhaps as old as 200 years. I know for a fact that the two that came down near the corner of Detroit and Division during this years storms were at least 160 years old; I helped clear the public right of way on the sidewalk after the city did nothing for 4 days, and carted off some of the larger branches. We counted the rings past 160. Some trees live 1000s of years. It's satisfying to know that without human interference, many trees will be here long after you are gone.

Richard Wickboldt

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

The major and the many citizens on our boards and project committees are transforming AA into a Disney theme park. What was once the atmosphere and life style of AA and why so many of us live and moved here is being changed by some out of touch visionaries. We must all remember that high density means fewer trees. They are transforming central AA into a miniature Manhattan.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

There are worse things than sprawl, and living in the midst of a crowd of people is one of them. Just move to Tokyo or NYC if you want to live like that. Let's not change the longstanding flavor and character of this town to make it like those.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.

Miniature Manhattan, without the consideration of a Central Park.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Lower density means more sprawl. I'd rather the higher density downtown, and more green space around the city.

Hugh Giariola

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

So you want to restrict what a property owner can do with the vegetation on his or her property? Yaaay. Hug a tree.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

Yes, restrictions on the removal of landmark or historic trees are common in cities that care about their liveability and appearance.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

Two of the three trees mentioned are on neighboring property. You don't mind your neighbor killing trees on your property?


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 11:05 a.m.

Who is the author of this opinion? I don't see the person's name above.

Kyle Mattson

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

That has been corrected.