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After A Year Of Debate, Louisville Lawmakers Pass Tree Ordinance

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Louisville’s tree canopy is in decline. Sustainability advocates say protecting trees is important for mitigating problems such as flooding and heat island effects. 

A tree ordinance approved Thursday by Metro Council could help slow those issues, supporters say.

The ordinance, which was introduced nearly a year ago, tweaks the existing tree ordinance from 1988. The new version says any tree removed from the public right-of-way has to be replaced, with the cost falling to the adjacent property owner.

All that’s left is for Mayor Greg Fischer to sign off on the approved ordinance.

The decision closes this chapter of the conversation surrounding Louisville’s tree protections. 

Councilman Bill Hollander, who co-sponsored and introduced the ordinance last December with Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, said the changes to the existing ordinance are common sense.

“What we have here is an ordinance that will help focus attention on the issue of our declining tree canopy, which really is a health issue for our community," Hollander said. "It will protect the trees that we have and it will protect further losses."

Other council members who voted yes said they did so despite reservations. Councilman James Peden said some land development policies that allow developers to slash trees make the ordinance requiring constituent responsibility seem hypocritical.

The proposal did not have unanimous support. Councilwoman Mary Woolridge was one of the three members who voted against the ordinance. She said she took issue with trees in the public right-of-way whose roots push up sidewalks, a costly issue. Councilwoman Marilyn Parker also opposed the measure, taking issue with fines she said might hurt tree protection efforts.

"I'm afraid it's going to discourage the public from planting trees because there are fines in this ordinance and they still go up to $10,000, which I feel like is pretty punitive," Parker said.

Councilman Stuart Benson also voted against the ordinance.

While the ordinance was ultimately overwhelmingly approved, Councilman Brent Ackerson cautioned the other members that it's not a panacea. The measure was partly a reaction to a  2015 report that said Jefferson County loses about 54,000 trees a year and this, he said, won't solve the problem.

"I don’t think the Council should go out in the community and be too proud of this today," Ackerson said, referencing the report. "Ultimately is this ordinance going to do anything to that? No, it’s a drop in the bucket."

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.