BERLIN – Berlin residents, please save your trees, Councilwoman Paula Lynch requested Monday night.
“They’re a part of our heritage, and a part of what our town is,” Lynch said.
At this week’s Mayor and Council meeting, Lynch asked town staff to put her plea to preserve Berlin’s trees in the town newsletter to make the community aware of the importance of trees to the community.
“It just seems awful for big trees to be cut down,” said Lynch.
Berlin has been a community for over 200 years, Council Vice President Gee Williams said, and large trees reflect the town’s character.
Lynch is concerned that residents are cutting down the large trees on their own land, which the town has no control over.
“It’s up to the individual,” Lynch acknowledged.
The trees cut down could have been diseased or unhealthy, Williams pointed out.
The town could consider doing something to promote trees for Arbor Day, perhaps making seedlings available to town residents, Williams said.
Berlin native Greg Purnell, who is employed as Ocean City’s town arborist, later said he thinks that even more can be done to protect existing trees and plant more.
“I’m very interested in talking with Paula and the other council people about Tree City U.S.A. and other programs like that,” he said.
In the Berlin-based film Runaway Bride, the fake town sign sported a ‘Tree City U.S.A.’ sign, but the real town has not achieved that label yet.
Although he was working on that in the past with the defunct Beautification Committee, Purnell thinks it is time to take up the effort again.
“Berlin is a city of trees; it certainly should be a Tree City,” Purnell said.
To become a Tree City U.S.A., Berlin must hold an annual Arbor Day ceremony, spend at least $2 per resident on tree planting and care, establish a citizen committee to oversee and manage the town’s trees, and pass an ordinance governing the planting, protection and care of the town’s trees.
“I haven’t been able to make that happen alone,” Purnell said. “I’m very willing to work with someone. I can’t do it alone or without the blessing of the Mayor and Council.”
If the town does not wish to pursue Tree City status, elected officials can still step in and approve an ordinance on historic and existing tree preservation, new tree plantings and tree care, said Purnell.
“They can save these historic trees by size or based on the character or history of the tree,” Purnell said. “A lot of this is done through council mandates and code and so forth.”
Berlin has historic trees all over town, including the second largest magnolia grandiflora in Maryland, growing on Main St., he said.
Trees are not just aesthetically pleasing, Purnell pointed out.
“Real estate values are enhanced by tree planting and shrub planting and the like,” he said.
Property values can increase by as much as 15 percent because of additional trees, Purnell estimated.
Reports also indicate that communities with numerous trees use less power, because the trees keep buildings cooler in summer, and warmer in winter. Trees can also help with stormwater management, something Berlin has struggled with for years, by taking up water before it becomes a problem.
Pete Cosby, chair of the Berlin Planning Commission, would like to see a tree ordinance added to the town code, but nothing too restrictive.
“I don’t want a situation where the tree police say you have to have 50 trees on your lot and you can’t cut anything down,” Cosby said. “We should protect trees of a substantial size and character that have a special presence.”
The ordinance needs to be adjustable, he feels.
“Maybe we need a tree committee to say, this tree needs to be protected,” Cosby said.
An ordinance could require a property owner to plant another tree, on his own land or in a town park, after cutting down an existing tree, Cosby suggested.
“I don’t want to be a Nazi about it. I just want to use common sense about it,” he said. “The beauty of Berlin is we’re not as [tightly regulated] as Ocean Pines. We’re eclectic.”
He added, “That’s what makes Berlin nice, the haphazardness of it.”
An ordinance needs to be fair to everyone, protecting trees and property owners’ right to have a yard, Cosby said. “Sometimes, a big old tree’s just got to go,” he acknowledged.
New development could use some tree requirements, he feels.
“When we develop property, new property, we should be planting trees indigenous to the area that grow into grandfather trees,” said Cosby. “Big trees give a community a character you don’t see in modern developments.”
The Planning Commission will consider a tree ordinance to be added to the existing landscape ordinance at their November meeting.