By Yustin Riopko
Alyson Craig remembers driving down Colony Road and Queen’s Road West and thinking how she’d love to live in Charlotte. She jumped at the chance to move here, remembering the tree canopy’s beauty.
Craig, who serves as the city’s deputy planning director, describes Charlotte’s tree canopy as a valuable resource that should be enjoyed by all residents. She and Tim Porter, who serves as the city’s chief urban forester, outlined some of the big questions surrounding Charlotte’s Tree Canopy Action Plan on Oct. 1 during a Q&A.
The plan will better define policies that preserve, restore and enhance the canopy, which is a measure of a city’s tree volume and coverage. Planners want to adhere to the goal that 50% of the city should have tree canopy coverage by the year 2050.
Five canopy analyses have been performed in the last eight years. Those studies indicated coverage was down from 49% in 2012 to 45% in 2018. According to Craig, 65% of that loss has been in single-family residential areas.
“If you want to remove a tree from your lot because it’s diseased, or you’re worried about it falling on your house, or you want to build a granny flat for your aging parents or you’re building a new house on a lot, none of those things are currently regulated by the City of Charlotte and that’s where we’ve seen most of our loss.”
Studies also revealed the canopy is not equitably distributed about the city.
“Trees can be expensive,” Craig said, “so we don’t want to place financial burdens on individuals, but we recognize that our tree canopy benefits are not received equally across our city and that needs to change.
“African American communities were given low grades in terms of loans, and predominantly white neighborhoods were given higher grades when making loan determinations. There’s a direct correlation between canopy and these historical redlining practices.”
Another cause of tree loss is residential development. The city combats this type of loss by either requiring tree saves that preserve existing adult trees on developing parcels or by requiring a payment in lieu, which Porter called a mitigation fee.
“The city uses the money through a very successful program called the Tree Canopy Preservation Program, a program where the city acquires conservation land and protects it in perpetuity to ensure that long-term tree canopy preservation occurs,” Porter said. “Right now, I think we’re at two or three times more land protected than developers would have if they just chose to preserve it on-site. The program’s become a national model for other cities to use as a way to preserve canopy.”
City planners are collecting public input but options are being considered for changing policy and legislation that protects what residents and developers do with trees on their own property.
Visit www.publicinput.com/trees to take a survey about Charlotte’s canopy by Oct. 12.