Commission Finds Tree Ordinance Overly Restrictive

BERLIN – More work needs to be done to a proposed tree removal ordinance presented to the Berlin Planning Commission Wednesday night, the commission concluded.

The draft ordinance is the result of a discussion by the Berlin Mayor and Council in late October on protecting large old trees from being cut down on a whim.

“It hurts your heart to see a six-foot wide maple get chopped down for no reason,” said Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby.

The tree ordinance is nowhere near finalized, it became apparent at the planning commission meeting.

 “I wanted to put this in front of you, food for thought,” planning consultant Tim Bourcier told the commission.

The ordinance, based on an Arbor Day Foundation model, was too restrictive for the planning commission.

Commission member Newt Chandler questioned the size of the trees governed by the suggested regulations, saying that six inches wide is not a large tree.

Cosby agreed, saying the ordinance should protect magnificent trees.

“Every six inch tree, that’s not Berlin. That’s Ocean Pines,” he said.

He also did not support requiring cut trees to be replaced with several more saplings.

The historic district regulations cover changes to a site, but not trees specifically.

Bourcier thought the historic district commission might have the power through that clause to protect trees on historic lots.

Chandler suggested changing the ordinance to govern trees with a bigger circumference than originally suggested and require property owners to apply to remove those bigger trees. He also suggested putting together a species list for new plantings.

 “I think we need to find a simple process,” Cosby said. “I don’t think we need a five-page ordinance and an application to the planning commission to chop down a six-inch tree.”

The ordinance should protect special trees, he said. “We don’t want to see a magnificent tree cut down without a good reason,” Cosby said.

There should be one person in the planning department that can approve a request, at no fee, to remove a tree.           

Berlin citizen Sandy Coyman, director of the Worcester County Comprehensive Planning Department, agreed that six-inch trees are not the target and urged the commission not to be too restrictive.

“A tree preservation ordinance has a lot of benefits. It has a downside,” he said.

Coyman cautioned that just protecting extremely large trees meant that once those large trees die, there might be nothing left to replace them.

Cosby said the town needs to give the tree ordinance some serious thought.

Discussion of a landscaping ordinance was inconclusive, although the commission agreed that something needed to be put in writing.

“We ought to have some minor bastion of protection,” Cosby said.

Trees should be shown on site plans, for example, Cosby said.

That ordinance would not apply to existing homes, however, but new development, he said.

Coyman strongly suggested that a landscaping ordinance is in order.

“It’s kind of all over the place,” he said. “The developers come in, they don’t know what they’re supposed to do.”

Currently, landscaping is required in new development in Berlin, but there are no guidelines. “Right now, it’s completely ad hoc, off the cuff,” Coyman said.

Cosby agreed landscaping needs to be addressed, but he suggested that be done at a later date after the comprehensive plan is addressed.

“We do need more direction in our code about landscaping,” Cosby said.