Environment

The debate over the future of Louisville’s tree canopy pits the interests of developers and builders against environmentalists concerned with the declining numbers of trees shading Louisville’s neighborhoods.

Stakeholders aired their concerns Wednesday, at a community meeting on proposed updates to Louisville’s land development code. The goal of these community meetings is to figure out how to prevent further tree loss and restore the city’s canopy.

The problem is that Louisville is losing trees at a rate of about 54,000 per year. Tree loss contributes to the city’s urban heat island and makes the city’s air quality and stormwater drainage worse.

Back in 2012, tree canopy covered about 37 percent of Louisville, according to a 2015 city-funded study.

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

On a chilly December evening, residents gathered at the East Government Center in Middletown. Inside a drab, fluorescent illuminated room, residents sat around a conference table.

Julia Williams with the city’s planning and design department sat at the head of the conference table with a mandate: hear from the public and come up with a way to preserve and rebuild the city’s tree canopy through changes to the land development code.

“The code is going to change. It’s going to change because I have two goals to meet here directed from Metro Council from the planning commission: reduce tree loss and increase Louisville’s tree canopy,” Williams said.

Home builder Rocky Pusateri said when he looked over the city’s 2015 study, he found that commercial and industrial development was a larger contributor to tree loss than residential development. He’s concerned that any changes made to land development code will have to be passed onto customers.

“There has to be a way to get this resolved and it can’t be on the backs of the development community because that transfers actually to our customers,” Pusateri said.

This is the crux of so many of the city’s environmental problems: how does Louisville make things affordable without passing off the costs onto the environment? Bert Stocker with the Fisherville Area Neighborhood Association said things have to change.

“We’re trying to correct the problem we recognize today. We can stick our heads in the sand and not do anything or we can make some dramatic changes and improve the health and well-being of the metropolitan area,” Stocker said.

Arborist Cindi Sullivan said regardless of what the city decides, the only way residents are going to preserve the tree canopy is by working together.

“We can certainly be innovative we can be creative and we can develop these areas so that we can preserve as much canopy as possible and increase it as we go,” she said.

Williams with planning and design admits whatever the city decides on the land code, it’s only one piece of solving the city’s larger problem with tree canopy loss.

There will be at least one more public meeting before the land development code changes head to the Metro Council in March.

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