Council Members Say Dallas' Tree-Protection Rules Are Killing Development in Southern Dallas -- And They Might Have a Point

Categories: The Environment

SteveHouser.jpg
Steve Houser
Developers have been bitching about Dallas' tree-preservation rules since they were first put in place two decades ago. Though the regulations are fairly light (trees of certain desirable species must be replaced or offset by a contribution to the city's reforestation fund), they've been loath to accept the notion that a few sticks of wood should be allowed to stand in the way of economic progress.

The developer perspective got a hearty endorsement from members of the City Council's Quality of Life Committee this morning.

"We've got our arms tied between our back," Councilman Rick Callahan said, arguing that businesses are forsaking Dallas for the "cotton fields" of Plano and Murphy so they don't have to comply with the tree ordinance.

Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins agreed, arguing that economic development in tree-filled southern Dallas was DOA so long as Dallas is so strict.

"I don't care how your gonna 'Grow South,' you're not going to grow south until you knock some of those trees down."

You'd expect Steve Houser, the city's leading tree activist, to bristle at such comments, and he does. If developers want to skirt the rules, they set up a planned development district and request and exemption from City Council, like Walmart did a couple of years ago for its store on Westmoreland Road.

But Houser acknowledges that the tree ordinance presents an obstacle to development in southern Dallas that doesn't exist up north, where property values are high enough that developers can absorb tree-replacement costs. He also agrees with Callahan and Atkins on a more fundamental level: Dallas' tree ordinance has been a failure.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but the basic problem is that, while replacing every tree that is felled is better than nothing, it ignores the broader environmental issue of sprawl. Put another way -- and we apologize for this pun in advance -- the city's missing the forest for the trees.

Houser came to this realization after scores of meetings with longtime nemesis Bob Stimson, the development-minded city councilman-turned-Oak Cliff Chamber president, and years spent working on Vision North Texas, a regional initiative to steer future development.

Rather than focus on replacing individual trees, Houser decided, the city should create a program to incentivize the creation of dense, environmentally sustainable developments and mixed-use projects on transit lines, a la Mockingbird Station. The environmental benefits of limiting sprawl would far outweigh the benefit of saving a few trees from the gaping maw of a Super Walmart.

Houser, and his Vision North Texas colleagues, have been trying to get the city to listen for years. The council's discussion of the tree ordinance this afternoon provided the first evidence the city is doing that.

Any revision of the ordinance is still a way off, but even Sandy Greyson, the council's leading tree advocate, acknowledged that the current rules aren't working. So, expect change to come.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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76 comments
rusknative
rusknative

south dallas needs to secede from Dallas and the DISD and go its own way, with its own tax funding and no drain of the rest of the city.  Oak Cliff was once a thriving place ON ITS OWN.

smichaelclark591
smichaelclark591

This is just another racist step by the council to derail and delay Grow South implementing rules they know will slow growth or make it never happen

curmudgeon
curmudgeon

So it's trees that are keeping South Dallas from being redeveloped. Not the crime rate or the current political leadership. Got it. 

kduble
kduble

This is the wrong focus. The problem isn't the tree ordinance but the parking ordinance. A tavern operator in my neighborhood can't get a liquor permit until the city signs off, and the city says he doesn't have enough parking. This despite the fact he's successfully operating as a party room. This is the real holdup. Guys that want to redevelop existing building, and have no need to fell trees to do it, are being held back because the city dictates they must pave over adjacent space.


The city's approach to parking reflects the thinking of 1954 rather than 2014. Progressive cities have moved from minimum parking to maximum parking. Instead or requiring that businesses have a minimum number of spaces, they're saying businesses cannot have more than a designated number of spaces of surface parking. But if their parking is underground, rooftop, inside the building or behind the building, they can have as much as they want. Get something like this going, and it promote dense, walkable development, reduce the cost of land acquisition, and fell fewer trees.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

What tree ordinance?

Every time I turn around another bunch of trees disappear to be replaced by a JCPenney/Walmart/Sams or some other such vitally necessary parking lot.

Huge trees, decades old, are routinely removed to be replaced by condos or mansions.

This is all inside the city limits.

What tree ordinance?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

Callahan must have been smirking when he made the statement that developers are heading to Plano or Murphy (why he would say Murphy instead of Frisco is a good question...)  all because these communities are former cotton fields where the developer doesn't have to deal with that pesky tree preservation issue.

hmm, that land in Plano or Murphy (and frisco...) costs several times as much, and those cities require a much higher ratio of landscaping on new development than Dallas does. the costs of tree mitigation is a small amount compared with the expense of these items.

Do not weaken the Dallas Tree Ordinance. There is no valid reason, the long term benefits are substantial.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Look at the subdivisions of Highland Park, University Park, Old East Dallas, The M Streets and Lakewood.

http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/all/cul/dmp/

zoom in.

What's missing?

trees.

What's there now?

trees.

for you see, trees grow back, and neighborhoods actually PLANT good trees.

CONCEPT! Plano will one day look like University Park.

WAAAH! I want trees NOW!

Hey kids. Daddy needs to scrape most of the old growth so he can redevelop the Southern sector . . . again.  For you see honey, South Dallas was one of the first areas to develop and the neighborhoods have cycled through their natural life cycle.  The improvements are near the end of their physical life.  So in order to make South Dallas pretty again, we must remove a lot of the mature trees to build new buildings so you little morons will want to move there . . . 

and plant trees.

See how things work?


ruddski
ruddski

Someone stole all the trees.

TXsharon
TXsharon

@kduble  What Dallas and all of Texas needs is mass transit so it reduces the need for cars and parking. 

rusknative
rusknative

@Montemalone TREES USE UP CO2 WHICH THE EPA DECLARES IS A HEALTH HAZARD.....SO WE NEED TO REPLACE SOUTH DALLAS WITH A TOTAL TROPICAL RAIN FOREST AND MOVE THE PEOPLE FURTHER SOUTH TO LANCASTER OR ENNIS OR WAXAHATCHIE, OR HOUSTON.

rusknative
rusknative

@mavdog COTTON FIELDS NORTH, RELATIVES OF FORMER SLAVE COTTON PICKERS SOUTH.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog  

Well then you need to spend some of your own money to redevelop South Dallas.  Those far flung subdivisions all the way to Grayson County are a lot farther away and South Dallas is very close in.  It's a natural for redevelopment.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

you must be under the incorrect assumption that the Dallas Tree Ordinance prohibits the removal of trees.

That is incorrect.

a land owner CAN take out the trees on the property that is being developed.

First, many species are not protected and can easily be removed without a permit.

Second, trees that are protected can be removed with a pemit.

Removed trees are replaced a) somewhere else on the property, b) within a mile of the property, c) just donating trees to the City who then plants them elsewhere, or d) just write a check to the city for the costs of the replacement trees.

see how easy it is for things to work?

rusknative
rusknative

@ruddski need something for the nooses to hang from like in the 1920s in Dallas when it was headquarters to the KKK?

pak152
pak152

@TXsharon @kdublewe all ready have mass transit, the problem is that the people want the freedom to move around when they want, where they want and how they want.
i suspect you would be happiest living on an island like Manhattan


mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

been there and done that.

thanks fo asking.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

I developed a tract here in our fair city.  Had the City arborist come out and make an "ocular" survey.  He said there was about 3,000 in mitigation.  I bought the tract, applied for a building permit, and a young, newly minted A&M Aggie arborist came out.

$30,000 according to her.

It was a little over an acre.  I was already committed.  The tract had been bought and the borrowed money was ticking.

I am very familiar with the elusive tree ordinance.

It moves around.  A lot.

On a whim.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@pak152

wonderful history of the former farmland that is now developed.

do you have a point?

Subnx
Subnx

Nobody uses mass transit unless they have to.

rusknative
rusknative

@s.aten @pak152@TXsharon@kduble WHERE IS GOD'S NAME DID YOU GET THE IDEA THAT RAIL LINES ARE CHEAP TO BUILD?  Do you know what it takes to PURCHASE and get the LAND TO BUILD THE RAIL LINES UPON....and trains are stuck with a route unlike buses that have steering ability.

rusknative
rusknative

@TXsharon @pak152@kduble South dallas has mainly non skilled workers and construction people who need a pickup truck and tools to take to a job site....it isn't about going places on a bus or public transportation in Dallas...how many Hispanics take the bus other than downtown janitors, city employees, or domestic help?

pak152
pak152

@s.aten @pak152@TXsharon@kduble
"American cities have spent close to $100 billion constructing rail transit systems, and many billions more operating those systems. The agencies that spend taxpayer dollars building these lines almost invariably call them successful even when they go an average of 40 percent over budget and, in many cases, carry an insignificant number of riders. The people who rarely or never ride these lines but still have to pay for them should ask, “How do you define success?”

This Policy Analysis uses the latest government data on scores of rail transit systems to evaluate the systems’ value and usefulness to the public using six different tests:"
http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/defining-success-case-against-rail-transit

pak152
pak152

@s.aten @pak152@TXsharon@kduble"Rail lines are cheaper to build than freeway lanes." nope not in a heartbeat plus a single rail line doesn't have the same carrying capacity. but would love to see the data you have to support your statement.


as for bus service well it is based up on the demand. if you are waiting 45 minutes to an hour then you don't know how to read the schedule. all buses and trains run on a schedule, while if you have a car you go when you need to


s.aten
s.aten

@pak152 @TXsharon@kduble Bus service is half assed when you wait 45 minutes to an hour between buses.  Rail lines are cheaper to build than freeway lanes.  If you need to capacity for rail, you run more trains more often vs 5 to 10 years to add a freeway/tollroad lane if you can find the money.

pak152
pak152

@TXsharon @pak152@kduble
"If you build efficient mass transit, people will use it"

okay so describe your "efficient mass transit" that would have people rushing to use it.

at the same time please explain how and why the bus system is "half-assed" when one looks at this map
http://dart.org/maps/pdfmaps/DARTSystemMap04nov13.pdf

at the same time you may find this article of interest
www.newgeography.com/content/001412-whos-dependent-cars-try-mass-transit?

TXsharon
TXsharon

@pak152 @TXsharon @kduble


@pak152, you are confusing half-assed bus transportation with efficient mass transit. I suspect you would be happiest living in the 1950s. 


No city in Texas has a good, efficient mass transit system. If they did, people would use it and then we could stop spending money on expanding freeways that are still jammed and stop dozing trees to make more parking lots. Development could happen without concern for parking space. 


We have a serious traffic issue in this area. No matter how much tax money is wasted on freeway expansion, there is still a serious traffic issue. It can take 45 minutes or more to drive 15 miles down 75. 


If you build efficient mass transit, people will use it and enjoy the freedom to move around when they want and where they want. 

rusknative
rusknative

@mavdog you are happy when gasoline goes up a mere $.68 per gallon maybe?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@pak152 @WylieH @holmantx @mavdog  

The City actually has an accelerated plans approval process.  You pay them an extra fee to put your stuff in front everyone's else's.

I kid you not.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog  

you sound like Perry taking credit for Texas growth.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH @holmantx @mavdog  

Oh it's much larger than just the Arborist office.  And they are right across the street on Jefferson St.  Former employees who know how the process works.

It was flatly suggested to me by a current employee of the permit office.  

They actually have "consultants" you can hire to facilitate the paper process.

The whole place is infected.

They see former politicians and staff accept money for access (lobby) on the council side (bribes) and it is now acceptable to hire former staff to "consult" to push the paperwork through development services on new construction.

It's called taking a bribe.  La Mordita. The Bite.

WylieH
WylieH

@holmantx @mavdog  One just has to hire the right "consultant" to "work with" Development Services.  

ruddski
ruddski

"... the elusive tree ordinance..."

Rules, laws, mandates and ordinances, like trees, are living, breathing things. When the whims of change blow, it's for your own good.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

my point exactly. The Tree Ordinance is not a problem.

Dallas is experiencing a tremendous amount of development. #2 in the country.

It's just not primarily in the southern area.

that is not due to the Tree Ordinance.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

Well then what's the problem?  Why are these evil greedy developers holding off from redeveloping South Dallas (or any where else in the City)?  What could they be grumbling about?

Why, if I were you I would be blocking up entire subdivisions between Downtown and Loop 12.

Get after it, my man!

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

wow, the land basis increased by an astounding .68 a square foot!

as a component of the overall budget, it would be hard to expect the additional mitigation costs to have added more than 2%.

your contingency should have covered that....

pak152
pak152

@mavdog as the former Sec'y of State is wont to say "what difference does it make?"

pak152
pak152

@mavdog @holmantxer-uh 3,000 in mitigation I believe especially when the Aggie arborist comes out and says it is now $30,000. connect the dots mavdog. that "top commenter" tag is getting a little wobbly

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

again, was it residential or commercial?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

residential or commercial?

"about 3,000" what?

Subnx
Subnx

People don't need an ordinance to plant trees.

rusknative
rusknative

@mavdog @pak152How is your Obamaphone working mavbaby....and your health insurance?  still seeing the same doc?   my land, my trees...all others who do not pay my taxes are allowed to just STFU.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@pak152

clearly you don't undestand, there is a landscape requirement and there is a tree preservation ordinance. two different mandates.

the landscape requirement is what is to be installed when a development is done. there is a limit to the impervious coverage on the property (that's surface coverage like buildings/concrete), and plants that satisfy the "points" that must be reached for permitting. this is when the project is built. there's a requirement to plant trees in this process.

the tree ordinance protects trees that exist. when property is developed/redeveloped, the ordinance sets out what can be removed by tree type/size, if removed how the loss is repaid, i.e. "mitigation".

the trees planted in Dallas over the years have been preserved because of the ordinance that is in effect.

Plano, Frisco and McKinney have these same ordinances.

yes, your examples show the trees are an amenity, they add value to our community, and credit the tree ordinance for protecting this.

pak152
pak152

@mavdoger-uh mavdog those trees were planted when there was no tree ordinance in place. developers put in trees as an amenity. look at the trees in the apartment complex bound by greenville, skillman, nwhighway and southwestern. thos trees were planted before the tree ordinance. look at the areas up in frisco and mckinney trees are planted and I doubt it is because of an ordinance

trees add value


"Thanks for showing all these examples of how the Tree Ordinance benefits our community!"
my examples do no such thing.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@pak152

oh, so you are saying that property can be developed, with trees being removed, and the development of that property will include the planting of new young trees. ultimately those trees will mature and the development will contribute to the area.

yes, that is EXACTLY what the Dallas Tree Ordinance spells out.

Thanks for showing all these examples of how the Tree Ordinance benefits our community!

pak152
pak152

@mavdog @pak152let me spell it out for you. it is called  historical context. people crying about trees disappearing but when you look at how North Dallas was developed (and as Holmantx pointed out) people planted trees where there were none.


may have to revoke your "Top Commenter" tag if you continue along with this line of questioning

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@pak152

you haven't made any assertion as to why you are posting the aerial photos.

are you just an admirer of historical aerials?

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