Cannon Beach is taking another gander at its tree ordinance, working to better protect the piece of nature that allows it to lay claim to a Tree City USA status.
Planning Commission members discussed the ordinance during a work session Nov. 23, but made no decisions. Instead, they plan to seek public input.
Those who wish to cut down trees in Cannon Beach must demonstrate a safety hazard or show the tree is dying and receive a permit.
One idea suggested at the commission meeting was requiring tree-removal-permit applicants to submit to an inspection by the city’s arborist, Will Caplinger.
Caplinger examines city trees’ health, but in order to inspect trees on residential property, he needs permission first.
Commissioner Lisa Kerr said the city arborist has no checks and balances on “hired guns” brought in by property owners to evaluate trees.
A preliminary city visit before any trees are cut could lower citations, Commissioner Ryan Dewey added.
Kerr said a city arborist allowed on residential property could help resolve similar issues.
Dewey expressed concern, however, over people intentionally damaging trees to get what they want.
He also brought up the city’s replacement policy, and suggested allowing people to donate a tree to the city if, in rare circumstances, a replacement tree wouldn’t fit well on their property.
“It’s about doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s about replacing something you’ve taken.”
Instead of basing penalties on the number of trees, Commissioner Hank Johnson said they should examine the possibility of assessing fines on the value of the trees. For example, an older tree 4 feet in diameter would be worth more than a younger 10-inch one.
The current fine is $500 per tree.
Whether the tree is native or not should not matter, Johnson added. He suggested protected statuses for historical or heritage trees, as well.
Commission President Bob Lundy asked if such a change could lead to another Measure 49 situation. Barnes answered it potentially could if the protected status renders a property unbuildable. Measure 49 allows property owners to claim compensation from local or state governments when their property value is reduced by environmental or land use regulations.
Commissioner Joseph Bernt said the city needs to also think of protecting residents in the ordinance.
“This ordinance is all about preserving trees and protecting trees,” Bernt said. “It doesn’t deal so much with worrying about trees that are likely culprits in storm damage.”
If one of the city’s trees are problematic, Cannon Beach staff can remove it, Barnes said. But if the tree is on personal property, it would be between neighbors. Insurance could cover damage costs, but the city could not do anything about it.
The commission did address an issue on Larch Street that caused community ire. The city was planning to cut down two spruces in the right of way, deeming them unhealthy. But neighbors protested and the tree removal was canceled.
Being a Tree City USA, Dewey said he thinks there needs to be more than a 100-foot neighborhood notification.
“I think this is really important,” he said, adding they need to talk with the community and do much consideration before making changes.
Kerr agreed, but said the city should begin a draft with the ideas presented. Barnes said he had enough to do so.
It will be January, at the earliest, before the issue comes back to the commission.