South Charlotte has experienced the greatest loss of the city’s tree canopy from 2012 to 2018, according to Chief Urban Forester Tim Porter.
During that span, the city lost 7,600 net acres of canopy with 65% of that occurring in single-family areas.
“This is the real priority area when we’re talking about tree canopy policy,” Porter told the Charlotte City Council on Nov. 10. “The bulk of our tree canopy is located in single-family areas.”
The city hopes to get a more clear picture about how factors such as infill development and aging trees affect canopy loss.
City Councilman Ed Driggs asked staff how they reconcile long-term plans of phasing out single-family neighborhoods in favor of more dense housing with its efforts to restore the tree canopy.
“That’s the challenge we have all been discussing internally as well as with our stakeholders,” replied Deputy Planning Director Alyson Craig. “The change of going from a single-family home to a duplex or triplex could create additional lot coverage that makes it more challenging for trees.”
She said the city hopes to find more clarity around the issue in working with UNC Charlotte.
City staff also didn’t have a clear answer to another Driggs question about why higher income areas have more tree canopy. Councilman Braxton Winston said Black communities were relegated to brownfields with the most fertile areas clear cut to develop transportation projects.
Councilman Larken Egleston said while a duplex or triplex may take a larger footprint on a parcel, that is still a lower net impact than if there were three households on three separate parcels.
“There’s often a false idea that density and preserving our tree canopy are at odds with each other – and at times they might be – but if each individual person is living on a smaller footprint, they are having less of an impact on our tree canopy,” Egleston said. “Density is not necessarily the enemy here. There could be a solution.”