Welcome to our series of UDO series! If you’re not familiar with the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), no worries! Earlier we published an introductory post discussing the UDO, the difference between the Comprehensive Plan and the UDO, and why everyone in Charlotte is talking about it today. Each post in our series will be dedicated to a unique way that the UDO is designed to improve life here in Charlotte.
Today, we’re talking about the environment! We’ll discuss why it is important to preserve Charlotte’s green spaces, how the UDO will help to achieve this, and what concerns exist surrounding the proposed rules.
Before you start reading this blog post, we want to remind you that at the very end, you can find suggestions on what you can do to give your input to Charlotte's UDO staff to help build a sustainable and equitable city that we all deserve. Feel free to copy and paste our templates, customize or create your own!
Perhaps you have run into a few articles online expressing concerns that the new tree regulations in the UDO are significantly more restrictive than those currently in place. Here’s why we think this is actually a good thing, and why the changes are necessary to support a healthy tree canopy.
The main tree-related goal of the UDO is to protect trees in the City, especially on residential properties, because this is precisely where the City is losing the most significant part of its tree canopy. Between 2012 and 2018, Charlotte lost 4% of its tree canopy, which equals approximately 7,669 net acres lost!. Feel free to go back and check out our previous posts about the importance of trees for Charlotte’s healthy and sustainable future.
Concerning Heritage Tress ONLY: Some of the tree-related regulations in the UDO specifically focus on the preservation of heritage trees. The city defines a heritage tree as “any tree native to North Carolina per the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service Plants Database with a DBH [diameter measurement - Sustain Charlotte] of 30 inches or greater”. Some examples of heritage trees include Black Gum, Live Oak, Green Hawthorn, Pawpaw, Sycamore, Serviceberry, Carolina Silverbell, Eastern Red Cedar, White Oak.
If a property owner wishes to remove a heritage tree, the proposed UDO ordinance would require them to first obtain a tree work permit at the cost of $150. If the tree(s) were found to be healthy and located in buildable areas without any other reasonable options, or they unreasonably restrict the use of the property, the owner would also pay an additional $1000 mitigation fee per heritage tree that they remove. Tree removal could be denied if healthy trees did not meet the above criteria.
If the tree(s) were diseased or threatened the safety of the property occupants, those restrictions would not apply. If property owners or individuals remove a heritage tree without a tree work permit, fines of $200 per inch of tree diameter would be issued along with the required re-planting of five trees. This would double if the removal of trees against the ordinance is deemed “willful”.
Why is it important?
The geography of tree canopy loss, as well as the reasons behind the loss, varies. As you see in the images below, the greatest tree loss is occurring in Council District 3, which is in west Charlotte.
Sustain Charlotte believes that the value of large heritage trees goes far beyond the $1000 mitigation fee. Trees provide shade, reduce the urban heat island effect, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, provide habitat for species, and protect the land from erosion, among many other benefits. $1000 may not be a high enough deterrent for wealthier property owners to pay to get the tree removed, while the tree provides benefits for the entire community.
The UDO’s tree ordinance would help achieve goal # 7 in the adopted Comprehensive Plan, which sets a vision for Charlotte to integrate our “natural and build environment”.
In 2020, Sustain Charlotte actively engaged in the draft work related to trees by serving on the Tree Canopy Action Plan (TCAP). An example of our work while serving on TCAP was to push trees as public infrastructure, especially right-of-way trees, critical to walkability and quality of life. Other items included varying tree standards, flexibility, and design based on the place type.
Articles 23, 25-27 in the UDO cover the regulations of areas adjacent to the waterways. The new UDO draft has tighter regulations for construction in floodplain areas, increasing the elevation as well as buffer threshold for where the new construction can be built and renovations could be done.
This in turn means that fewer projects could be built on the land than it is allowed for development under the current floodplain ordinances. The UDO sets standards for both vertical (elevation) and horizontal (buffer) limits measured from the top of the bank as in the image below to preserve water quality as well as protect the watershed and adjacent lands from flooding, as an increasing amount of impervious service threatens the quality of water.
Why is it important?
The main purpose of floodplains preservation is to minimize impacts from stormwater runoff by reducing source pollution associated with development. This will improve surface water quality and minimize damage to infrastructure and property. Perhaps some of you remember the historic flooding that happened a year ago that surpassed the record water level of Hurricane Danny in 1997. Little Sugar Creek was over 16 feet deep from 8 inches of rain in one day and not from a hurricane.
The proposed regulations in the UDO discussed above would enhance the amount of protected land and decrease the footage of land that could be used for development, a concern that the development community has been very vocal about over the past several months. However, Sustain Charlotte believes the UDO will support healthy creeks and protect property owners from the increasingly severe and frequent precipitation events that are occurring due to climate change. If you want to know how prone or not your area where you live is for flood risks, you can use the flood risk tool called the FloodFactor.
How can we support the ordinance?
As we mentioned earlier, the city has created an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and suggestions about the current UDO draft by submitting their comments through the UDO portal. To make it easier for you, we have prepared some templates of what could be submitted. Feel free to adjust them. Fill in your contact information first and then copy/paste the below article and section headers for your comments. Here's what it will look like:
If you want to post comments on:
**Please use this before putting in your comments so staff can associate it with the proper section.
COPY: Article 29: Tree Protection - Section 3: MAINTENANCE and PROTECTION OF TREES
Insert your comments
Here is some suggested wording:
- “Please preserve higher rates of fees for removing trees, particularly heritage trees.”
- “It is important we preserve and increase the tree canopy. Trees provide wildlife habitat, shade our neighborhoods, improve air quality, and make our community more resilient to the impacts of climate change..”
- “As tree canopy in the city is decreasing, we need a UDO that helps the city reverse that loss.”
- “The city through the UDO should provide more incentives to protect trees and support the planting new ones”
Please use this before putting in your comments so staff can associate it with the proper section.
Insert your comments
Here is some suggested wording:
- “Development should not be allowed to happen within floodplains (as defined by the 15-foot distance from the top of the creek/stream/pond bed), as it is neither safe nor environmentally sound.”
- “Keeping development away from floodplains will improve surface water quality and minimize damage to infrastructure and property.”
- “Floodplains, while note suitable for building upon, could be turned into infrastructure that the community could benefit from such as greenways.”
- "As the population of Charlotte is projected to be growing over the next several decades, it is important to plan responsibly for that growth by not building in flood risk areas. Development in those areas will cost residents and the city more in long run."
- "Any fees collected from tree removal should be directed to fund tree loss mitigation measures (for example, planting of new trees, educational events, etc)"