Lower Mac Proposes Tree Cutting Ordinance

A timber harvesting ordinance being proposed by the LMT BOC would require residents to apply for a permit to cut down more than three trees on their property within a calendar year.

An ordinance is being proposed by the Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners that would require residents to apply for a permit to cut down more than three trees on their property within one calendar year. This would apply to trees with trunks thicker then 6 inches at breast height.

The proposed penalty for cutting down a fourth tree without a permit would be $1,000 plus costs.The residential part of the ordinance has provisions for sick, or damaged trees.The ordinance does not state the costs associated with applying for this permit.

The ordinance also deals with commercial tree removal. It requires logging operations to operate in a sustainable manner and prohibits clear cutting which entails cutting down all the trees in a specified area. 

Lastly, the ordinance allows trees to be cut down when zoning permits are issued for buildings. This includes the space of the future building, within 15 feet of proposed buildings and within 10 feet of driveways.

The commercial aspect of this ordinance is great. However, I think the residential limit of three trees in one year deserves some more thought and discussion. 

Certainly forest protection in the township is important. Woodland protection helps control erosion issues, sedimentation and runoff. Trees are an asset. But does this ordinance strike the proper balance between landowners rights and community good?

Would a policy that somehow rewards planting native trees make sense to augment this?

I would support something a little more specific in terms of protecting high value aesthetic trees (streetscape) and those in environmentally sensitive areas as opposed to a blanket limit of three trees per lot.

This would be more appropriate in terms of the delicate balance between landowner rights and protecting community assets. 

Our township has many property owners with large wooded lots. Good forest management includes pruning forests, cutting down invasives and replanting with natives, promoting growth of desirable lumber trees and wildlife friendly nut trees along with opening sunlight to promote understory growth for songbird food and protection.

This is an ordinance that would affects almost every township resident. What are your thoughts? 

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Michael D Siegel May 31, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Impossible to enforce with large tree lots. Otherwise, more emphasis on protecting street trees needs to be made by the township. Just drive down Sauerkraut Ln and see all the trees that are diseased or dead or missing. Carl Best needs to get off his butt and force the homeowners to replace those missing or diseased trees now. Passing an ordinance is one thing, enforcing is another. The township is already aware of the problem because I have told the staff. By the way, when you drive down Sauerkraut the next time take a gander of all the wires sticking out of the ground along the sidewalks for street lights- an attractive nuisance. If they are energized- say goodbye to a child or pet
Rob Hamill May 31, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Hopefully this ridiculous ordinance is a work in progress. A law created by yuppie city slickers who have no idea about how the world works, who work in air conditioned offices, who think that command and control planning is their god-given right because they are so smart and the taxpayers should be grateful to pay their brilliance. I hope this is dropped because what the Wildlands did last weekend to clean up and improve the sanctuary would have cost them $1,000 plus fees administered by a zombie gobment. Small woodlot owners are the basis of a rich and biodiverse ecosystem, and nobody loves their land better than the owner of the land, I don't care what the psuedo-environmentalists who sit in air conditioned offices and consult with $200/hour lawyers say.
Ron Beitler May 31, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Rob, I agree with you about small wooded lot owners.. No one cares about their land more then the landowner and no one knows whats better for that land then the owner in almost all cases. I do disagree in terms of...... I think if done correctly....that if this ordinance would SPECIFICALLY target street-scapes and enviro-sensitive areas it can be useful and in fact is something we need. Take Macungie for example. The past year I've seen I'm guessing 5 streetscape trees removed on Main. No replacements. Now I've poked around but havent found answers as to why replacements werent required and why these trees were allowed to be cut down. As a business owner on Main, I am vested in an attractive streetscape that enhances the whole corridor. These trees are community assets. Like it or not, LMT is urbanizing. While I'll fight the good fight where appropriate (Jaindl Property) this is impossible to stop. There will be more and more instances where an ordinance like this that protects street trees and requires replacements for those diseased, old ect. make alot of sense. Esp with more and more mixed use development coming where the streetscape is an asset. Also to the enviro point. Most landowners that live say along the river are conscientious. But there ARE some who aren't. What happens in this sensitive area affects those downstream as you know better than anyone maybe. This ordinance makes alot of sense from this standpoint.
Donald Miles May 31, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I don't live in LMT, but I think the proposed ordinance is not strict enough: For example, in my neighborhood in west Bethlehem we have dozens of 60+ year old trees. After the freak Halloween snowstorm which hit when most leaves were still on the trees, we had many large branches and a few entire trees fall down. We've lived here for 31 years and I'd never seen any tree-destruction like it. However, instead of making the rational response to this event (that any trees/branches that survived this exceedingly-rare storm event would be very unlikely to fall down) a number of my neighbors instead panicked and sawed-down EVERY tree on their property, a total of more than 30 over a six-square-block area. Many perfectly-healthy 60+ year-old trees (including several over 3 ft. in diameter) were killed senselessly. One of the attractive aspects of our old neighborhood is the tree-lined streets and shady lots: now much of that neighborhood character is gone. And that also effects our property values, for those who value money more than nature :-) Had Bethlehem had an ordinance preventing cutting-down, without a City Forester (yes, we have one :-) permit, of any healthy trees over, say, 18 inches in diameter, on any residential lot, this environmental and real-estate-value travesty could have been prevented. It is clearly something a municipality can do under its zoning power. Donald W. Miles chair, Sierra Club Lehigh Valley Group
Scott Alderfer May 31, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Street trees are a separate issue and are covered by a different ordinance. This proposed ordinance specifies a 50-foot uncut buffer along streets and neighboring properties. As I assume it to be intended, the ordinance would protect the aesthetics of our community mostly from property owners with undeveloped wood lots (ie. they don't live there) of a couple to tens of acres who want to sell off some timber for profit. It's their right to do so, but it's also the community's right to require timber harvesting to be done in a responsible manner that doesn't affect the aesthetics of the neighborhood in question. Maybe a better way to protect the rights of homeowners would be to make the permit free if the homeowner lives on the parcel in question as long as the lot is no more than one acre total.
Ron Beitler May 31, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Maybe street tree not the right wording as that's in SALDO... I mean privately owned trees on frontage of properties vs wooded lots. The high value aesthetic trees.
Mariella Savidge May 31, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Omigosh, Don, what a tragedy for your neighborhood! Yikes!
jim rossi May 31, 2012 at 09:38 PM
You people are sickening. There is NO right for the gov't to tell someone what they can do with what is on or under their property. Any jerk that thinks this is a good idea or even mildly feasible needs to move to China or N. Korea.
jim rossi May 31, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Tough, buy the property and protect the trees. Bob Hope bought a mountain in Montana and donated it for preservation. Go for it! The only place with more open space is between your ears!
Michael D Siegel May 31, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Wo there Mr. Rossi- so it is alright to place that drug rehab place next door to your house? How about the metal scrap yard or transfer station or better yet how about a sewage treatment plant? I do not know where you live but its people with your viewpoints that have polluted this country and left for our children to deal with in their lifetimes. Head over to Houston where they have no zoning laws and see how much you like it.
Ron Beitler May 31, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Mr. Rossi, your entitled to your opinion. I'm entitled to disagree with it. Which I do. There is a fine line between landowner rights and the reality of zoning laws designed to protect the freedoms and rights of your neighbors. These precedents have been standard in the united states for nearly 100 years (since 1916) and are designed to protect the public realm. The alternative is anarchy. Do I think this ordinance goes a bit too far? In some ways yes. Do we need watchdogs to ensure ordinances don't get passed that go to far? Absolutely. But your take is advocating for anarchy. It's counterproductive.
Michael D Siegel May 31, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Under the police power rights, state governments may exercise over private real property. With this power, special laws and regulations have long been made restricting the places where particular types of business can be carried on. In 1916, New York City adopted the first zoning regulations to apply city-wide as a reaction to The Equitable Building which towered over the neighboring residences, diminishing the availability of sunshine. These laws set the pattern for zoning in the rest of the country. New York City went on to develop ever more complex regulations, including floor-area ratio regulations, air rights and others for specific neighborhoods. The constitutionality of zoning ordinances was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1926 case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.. Among large populated cities in the United States, Houston is unique in having no zoning ordinances.[5] Rather, land use is regulated by other means.[6]
Mark Spengler May 31, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Can anybody explain where this idea of I own the land therefore I can do whatever I want comes from? I'm sorry but zoning laws are not new and yes local government can restrict land useage. I think in most cases these laws are good things. Perhaps sometimes overly restrictive zoning measures come forth and that is where people need to participate. But let's not argue for anarchy land ownership.
Michael D Siegel May 31, 2012 at 11:32 PM
The right of states to make laws governing safety, health, welfare, and morals is derived from the Tenth Amendment, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." State legislatures exercise their police power by enacting statutes, and they also delegate much of their police power to counties, cities, towns, villages, and large boroughs within the state. Police power does not specifically refer to the right of state and local government to create police forces, although the police power does include that right. Police power is also used as the basis for enacting a variety of substantive laws in such areas as Zoning, land use, fire and Building Codes, gambling, discrimination, parking, crime, licensing of professionals, liquor, motor vehicles, bicycles, nuisances, schooling, and sanitation. Many citizens forget about the tenth amendment and have decided to create their own amendment in their head by stating they have the right to do whatever they want on their land. The saying most likely derives from the Bible Mathew Chapter 20:15 which many have translated as "Have I not a right to do what I choose with my own property? Or are you envious because I am generous?" When you mix biblical translations with the govt constitution- you are bound to have those who take extreme points of views.
Mark Spengler June 01, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Thank You Michael that makes sense. The 9th and 10th amendment are too often forgotten.
Rob Hamill June 01, 2012 at 06:05 PM
"As a part of its Smart Growth package of amendments(Acts 67 and 68) to the state Municipalites Planning Code, the Pa General Assembly amended section 603 to state: "Zoning ordinances may not unreasonably restrict forestry activities. To encourage maintenance and management of forested or wooded open space and promote the conduct of forestry as a sound and economically viable use of forested land throughout the commonwealth, forestry activities including, but not limited to, timber harvesting, shall be a permitted use by right in all zoning districts in every municipality." I wonder if a lawsuit will be needed to enforce existing law against LMT?
Rob Hamill June 01, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Don, A shade tree ordinance is not what this ordinance is all about. This bill is a huge affront to private property rights of woodlot owners, and illegal if brought to court. Also, selective enforcement could lead to lawsuits by federal civil rights attorneys which would also strip commissioners of protective municipal immunity from personal lawsuits. Care to mess with Pandora's box here?
Ron Beitler June 01, 2012 at 06:22 PM
How do we differentiate between commercial logging operation restrictions and woodlot property owners?
Rob Hamill June 01, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Commercial loggers work for woodlot property owners. The profit motive and lack of regulatory restrictions will keep our forests sustainable. You take the profit motive away and restrict through regulations what a woodlot owner can do, and he will get disgusted and pack it up, and sell to developers. That is what The Penn State Forestry school has researched and found to be true. A forest thinning can sometimes look like a bad haircut, but in a little while, you look like a million bucks.
Michael D Siegel June 01, 2012 at 08:20 PM
The real issue is control of timber harvesters. Making sure timber harvesters do not ruin slopes by allowing erosion to go unchecked and creating logging trails that are properly stabilized for future harvesting. The timber harvesters must leave enough saplings to spur regrowth. Street trees must not be touched without a permit. Timber harvesting penalties without a permit must be so severe that the incentive to do it will not be an issue. Usually replacement trees to a 4:1 ratio will do the trick. I have written several tree ordinances and the sole purpose is to stop developers from tearing every tree down to meet stormwater calcs for reducing the size of basins before they submit their land development plan. This way they can create more lots by saying they had grass cover before they get approval.
Rob Hamill June 02, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Michael, That specific problem should be able to be handled with very specific language, if it really is a problem. When you give a gobment a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and property owners are rich targets.
Michael D Siegel June 05, 2012 at 09:21 PM
My 2 Cents, Grandfathering is called a non-conforming use or a nonconforming lot dependent on the type zoning description and definition in the zoning ordinance. Properties can have a non-conforming use such as a beauty salon being operated at the residence in a zone that no longer permits this beauty salon as an accessory use Trees on an existing wooded lot follow the same type of description. They are trees that were previously permitted but removal of all or majority of those trees may constitute a non-conformance of that lot. Trees are also in deed restrictions and many residents do not know about these restrictions when they buy the property (eg street trees and buffer trees. Getting a free permit to remove the trees may save the resident a lot of heartache and possibly a lot of money. Replacing cut trees can run up 500 each dollars for 3 inch caliper trees or bigger.


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