Fort Worth

Developers resist changes in Fort Worth tree ordinance

A developer saved this old live oak tree on the Edwards Ranch property in southwest Fort Worth in 2006.
A developer saved this old live oak tree on the Edwards Ranch property in southwest Fort Worth in 2006. Star-Telegram archives

The city is getting push-back from developers on a proposed revision to the tree ordinance, which Councilman Danny Scarth said could call into question having the tree preservation requirements for developers at all.

“While this is a somewhat minor revision to the tree ordinance that has been in place for eight years now, it may also turn into somewhat of a referendum on tree ordinances, period,” Scarth said at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

The council voted unanimously to delay action on the proposed amendment to the urban forestry ordinance until the March 3 meeting so the staff can meet with developers and work out kinks. Mayor Betsy Price was absent.

The urban forestry ordinance, created in 2006 and updated in 2009, requires commercial developers to save 25 percent of the property’s tree canopy.

The new proposal adds bonuses for developers who plant drought-tolerant species, changes the requirements for preserving canopy space and allows developers to get rid of non-native species.

For example, developers may either save 25 percent of the general canopy or clear-cut land occupied by non-native species and replace the tree canopy with native plants.

“We have to, I think, continuously be sensitive to and respectful of those folks who believe, like many people do in Texas, that when you buy a piece of property, you own what is on it, and that we as a city are making decisions about what you can do with your property,” Scarth said.

Well-known Fort Worth developer Kenneth Newell, who spoke against the ordinance Tuesday night, said that the development process is becoming too bureaucratic and that the tree ordinance puts up unnecessary obstacles.

“I think the development interests in Fort Worth and across this country understand the value of trees and landscaping, probably more than anyone else, honestly,” Newell said in an interview. “We spend millions of dollars developing a piece of property, even underground, with engineers and paving and all these things, but what people see and what they appreciate is the landscaping.”

Dana Burghdoff, deputy director of planning and development, said a strong tree ordinance adds value to the community by improving air quality, increasing property values, helping with storm-water quality through erosion control, and lessening the urban island heat effect, in which temperatures rise in areas with high concentrations of concrete.

“The original objectives for having an ordinance haven’t changed: preserving and protecting healthy and significant trees, providing for the replacement of trees removed for development and overall achieving a 30 percent citywide canopy coverage,” Burghdoff said.

While Newell said he isn’t completely against a tree ordinance, he is concerned that Fort Worth is losing business because of the bureaucracy involved in the ordinance, including applications and inspections.

“It elongates the process, makes it more difficult and more expensive. And I think Fort Worth is losing economic development because of it. Not everyone is as committed to Fort Worth as far as some of us are, and they will go where it is easier and that is happening,” Newell said.

Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman said that the ordinance is hard to understand and that the staff needs to meet with concerned developers.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984

Twitter: @catyhirst

Council briefs

▪ The City Council approved creating a fee structure for game rooms. The annual application and licensing fee will be $500 per business. The fee per machine will be $160, and a certificate-of-occupancy inspection fee will be $120. If game room owners break the rules, the costs rise, with a $200 noncompliance reinspection fee and a $100 fee per machine to reopen the games of chance.

▪ The council also unanimously approved a 10-year cultural plan that includes an arts trust fund to ensure funding for projects.

▪ The council also approved a $750,000 payment to Downtown Fort Worth Inc. to design and build pedestrian routes during the Tower 55 improvements. The money had been held in trust by Fort Worth since 2013, but it came from BNSF Railway.