Environment

After months of informal discussions, an updated tree protection ordinance is scheduled for a Louisville Metro Council committee hearing this week, though it’s not expected to get a vote.

The ordinance was introduced late last year. It primarily affects trees in public rights-of-way, like the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Those trees have long been the responsibility of private property owners, and the city requires permits to plant, prune or remove them.

But if the ordinance receives full Metro Council approval, it would require any tree removed in the public right-of-way to be replaced.

“If we’re going to be serious in addressing our diminishing tree canopy, we can’t be losing trees in the public right-of-way,” said Councilman Bill Hollander, the ordinance’s co-sponsor.

A 2015 study found Louisville is losing about 54,000 trees a year. The tree canopy loss is contributing to the city’s urban heat island, which is one of the fastest-growing in the nation.

Hollander has been meeting with stakeholders about the proposal over the past few months.

“We’ve been having discussions with a variety of organizations and individuals who were interested in the ordinance and how it would affect their operations,” he said. “So what we’ve been doing is making some adjustments to reflect their concerns.”

Hollander said the biggest change is that in some cases, a tree might be replaced in a different location. It’s at the discretion of the Division of Forestry where the tree should go, and in some cases, trees have to be removed in the public right-of-way due to infrastructure like power lines — factors that might make it difficult to replant a tree in the same location.

Trees on private property wouldn’t be affected by the replacement tree requirement, but private property owners would be allowed to ask for a special tree on their property to be designated historical or as a unique specimen. In that case, the tree would be protected from removal from future property owners.

The ordinance would also set up an escrow fund to help property owners who can’t afford to remove a dead or dangerous tree on their public right-of-way.

The ordinance is on the agenda for the Metro Council’s Public Works, Parks, Sustainability and Transportation Committee on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.