Environment

Louisville has a well-documented tree problem. The city is losing about 54,000 trees every year based on the last canopy assessment in 2015. That’s bad for, y’know, breathing, but it’s also making the city’s urban heat problem worse.

So Louisville is planning to update the land development code to improve the city’s tree canopy. The proposed changes are due to Louisville Metro Council in March, but residents can share their opinions at three upcoming community meetings:

  • Nov. 27 Okolona Fire Department
  • Dec. 4 Portland branch of the library
  • Dec. 11 East Government Center

“There is a great deal in interest in trees in this community and this is a time for public engagement and I hope, some real changes,” said Councilman Bill Hollander. “If we don’t do something to change, we will have even less tree canopy in 10 years than we do now.”

The trees aren’t just getting up and walking away, but it’s not really clear exactly why they’re disappearing. Part of the problem is that cities stress trees out. They get more diseases, more heat and less water than trees in the countryside. Of course, storms damage trees, too.

Then there is the development pressure.

The current land code requires developers preserve and/or replace a certain amount of the tree canopy. How much depends on the type of development and where it’s located.

For example, a suburban marketplace that’s planned for a lot with a tree canopy between 41 and 75 percent only has to ensure a 15 to 25 percent tree canopy upon completion, depending on how much canopy is preserved.

Under certain conditions, developers can opt to plant trees on a different site, or pay a fee in lieu of maintaining the tree canopy, but these programs are used infrequently, said Joe Reverman, assistant director of planning and design services.

“The vast majority of developments provide the percentage required [of tree canopy] on the site that’s being developed,” Reverman said.

The general consensus from the community is that the city needs to protect more of the tree canopy from new development, he said.

Hollander hopes the city also discusses how it can ensure current laws to preserve tree canopy are being enforced, he said.

“Is anybody coming and saying, ‘you can’t do that, you agreed that as part of this development you were going to maintain a tree canopy of X percentage?’” Hollander said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.