A proposed tree preservation ordinance isn’t quite ready for a Rochester City Council vote.

“I believe the ordinance is taking steps forward, but I think there are things that need to be looked at,” Council Member Mark Bilderback said.

Council members, however, appeared split on what changes they would like to see.

Council Member Michael Wojcik referred to the proposal as potentially the state’s weakest tree preservation ordinance, while Council Member Shaun Palmer questioned the need for new regulations.

“I just think this is outrageous when compared to affordability (of homes),” Palmer said, noting the proposed ordinance could add to the cost of building new homes.

He said he believes developers will work to save trees, since they provide benefits for properties and future sales.

Council Member Nick Campion, however, pointed to development that has cleared many trees in the northwest ward he represents.

“I think we have to be serious about taking a look at this,” he said, suggesting the city could consider offering incentives for saving trees.

The proposed ordinance, crafted by the Committee on Urban Design and Environment with the help of Rochester City Forester Jeff Haberman, aims to protect trees in developing areas while also offering steps toward expanding the city’s tree canopy.

Rochester’s current canopy — the layer of tree leaves and branches that provide coverage of the ground — is estimated to be 26 percent, but the proposed ordinance suggests a goal of extending that to 40 percent coverage.

Barb Hudson, a Committee of Urban Design and Environment member who has been leading the ordinance effort, said the goal was to create an interim ordinance to be put in place while more detailed work continues.

“I feel it’s a good start for us,” she said, noting the proposed ordinance includes flexibility to meet its goals.

Campion suggested the proposal may be too flexible, citing developers’ ability to seek variances that would bypass the requirements.

“I think that’s something we need to hone in on a bit,” he said of defining when variances would be appropriate and how they would be judged.

Council Member Patrick Keane also expressed concerns about potential conflicts with city goals to increase development in some parts of the city.

“We’re putting things in here that are almost in conflict with some of our recent zoning changes,” he said, noting a desire to see incentives for planting trees to expand the city’s future canopy cover.

With the new insights from the council, the Committee on Urban Design and Environment is slated to meet at 1:30 a.m. Thursday in room 104 of City Hall, 201 Fourth St. SE. The ordinance is the only item listed on the committee’s agenda.

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Local Government Reporter

Randy is the Post Bulletin's local government reporter, covering the city of Rochester and Olmsted County, as well as Destination Medical Center efforts. He joined the Post Bulletin staff in 2014.