Image by Joe from Pixabay

A tree canopy is what I like about here. To drive under tree cover. Yet some think of them as bothers that need to be removed.

As part of a sweeping new ordinance aimed at preserving Old Metairie’s signature tree canopy, the Jefferson Parish Council has upped the penalties for cutting down “protected” trees in two neighborhoods without a permit. The regulations, adopted Sept. 14, let the parish government charge property owners as much as $500 per day for each tree that’s unlawfully removed, until a permit is obtained. Previously, the government could charge only a one-time fee of $500 per tree. Across Jefferson Parish, few areas are as protective of its trees, particularly oaks, as Old Metairie. Over the years, some tree cuttings have prompted loud outcry, fines and even government investigations. The new rules aim to strengthen and streamline Jefferson’s tree preservation statutes, and pertain primarily to properties in the Old Metairie Neighborhood Conservation District and Metairie Ridge Tree Preservation District.

The current system has been in force for decades.

Jefferson created the overlay zoning districts decades ago, after years of booming construction that drastically reduced Old Metairie’s treescape. The regulations that followed required property owners to obtain permits if they wanted to remove certain “protected” trees from their land. It also required them to replace each tree with another on site, or pay a replacement fee to the government. It became clear, however, that the regulations needed “more teeth,” said Monica Monica, a member of the Old Metairie Commission, which reviews land development decisions in the area. “We found that some trees were being taken down inappropriately, and we questioned whether the fine was really a deterrent,” said Parish Council member Jennifer Van Vrancken, whose district includes Old Metairie. Under the latest rules, protected trees include: Oaks, except water oaks, Bald cypress, except those located within 15 feet of a building foundation, Elms, Magnolias and Sycamores with a diameter at breast height – picture someone standing next to the tree – of at least 8 inches. Also protected are trees that “contribute to the canopy” and have a diameter at breast height of 24 inches, excluding certain prohibited species.

The new regulations also cover the replacement of downed trees.

The new regulations also revamp the requirements for replacing a protected tree. Previously, if a tree were to be removed, the property owner would have to replace it with another that had a caliper – the diameter of a tree one foot off the ground – of at least 2½ inches. Now, the size of the replacement depends on the size of the tree removed. Trees that have a diameter at breast height of 12 inches or less must be replaced with trees with comparable calipers. For trees larger than 12 inches, the replacements must have a cumulative caliper of 12 inches, plus the property owner must pay a fee of $100 per inch over 12 inches. That means a property owner who removes a tree with a 24-inch diameter at breast height must replace it with a tree with a 12-inch caliper, plus pay a $1,200 fee to the parish. If a tree is removed unlawfully, the replacement requirement is doubled. “We’re trying not to be too onerous with these violations, but we also want to make it clear that these neighborhoods care about tree preservation,” Planning Director Bess Martin said.

As one who has planted a lot of Crepe Myrtles I can agree with these new rules.

Old Metairie to save old trees
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