An ordinance establishing a “landmark tree” program here has been amended to emphasize a village wide plan for trees. The amendment adopted February 23 changes the name of the volunteer committee from the Tree Preservation Advisory Committee to the Tree Committee, and calls for it to develop a “tree care plan.” The original ordinance was adopted in July 2009 after a stately cottonwood tree near the entrance to Corrales, just northeast of the Corrales Road-Cabezon Road intersection, was removed by a developer for a turning lane.
The amendment, Ordinance 21-02, was discussed at the February 9 council meeting and then adopted at the February 23 session. The substantive change to the existing ordinance is the new provision for a Tree Care Plan. It reads: “The Tree Committee shall prepare a Tree Care Plan for managing, maintaining, protecting, preserving and planting trees within the Village of Corrales. This plan details specific goals and objectives for tree inventories. tree risk management. tree protection and tree pruning standards. This document is intended to be a living document that is updated yearly to promote schedules for community education, tree planting programs, and updates to relevant information on tree selection and planting, best management practices and progress in stakeholder involvement in tree care.”
The ordinance would make no change to the process by which a Corrales tree might be designated a landmark. A nomination may be submitted by anyone, but it should give the tree’s location and a photo of it, as well as a written description of it and statement why it would qualify as a landmark. The nomination also is supposed to include written approval of the owner of the property on which it grows. “Any written approval required by this section must be notarized, and must include approval of all owners of the property.”
After the nomination is received by the Tree Committee, a recommendation is to be submitted to the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission for its concurrence. The program generally has been uncontroversial —except when an old cottonwood next to the Old Church was cut down after one of its large branches fell onto a vehicle parked under it in 2011.
A decision to remove the designated Landmark Tree near the Old Church was made at the January 10, 2012 Village Council meeting. Councillors delayed a decision on whether to cut it down as recommended by the Corrales Historical Society at their December 13 session, opting to hear directly from a master arborist who had examined the tree.
Corrales’ Tree Preservation Committee had recommended keeping the old tree alive, along with measures to protect it and people upon whom branches might fall. A petition urging Village officials not to cut down the tree was presented to the council December 13, 2011. According to regulations for the municipal tree preservation program, the final decision was to be made by Planning and Zoning Administrator (then Cyndie Tidwell) following a recommendation by the Landmark Tree Preservation Advisory Committee.
As committee co-chairman Sue Hallgarth noted, “This is the first time the Tree Committee has received a request for removal of a Landmark Tree.” In this case it was submitted by the Village government, owner of the Old Church property. “The Village administrator has filed a request for tree removal,” Hallgarth explained. “The Village’s request appears to be motivated by insurance and liability concerns, as well as reluctance to relinquish parking spaces” that would occur if a roped-off buffer area is established around the tree. But then-Councillor Sayre Gerhart brought the matter before the council rather than have the process play out before the P&Z administrator.
Hallgarth said the tree, one of two in the northwest corner of the Old Church property, “has lost two branches in the past growing season, one very large and one much smaller that dented a car parked beneath it. After the first branch fell, a certified master arborist was enlisted, and happened to arrive for his consultation minutes after the second limb dropped. “He described the tree as ‘exhibiting many characteristics of being a hazardous tree,’ but he also provided recommendations for preserving the tree if a decision is made to do so.
“His strategy is to cordon off a no-parking area to protect the roots and mitigate any potential hazards, to water deeply, mulch heavily, and trim dead wood and any structurally unsound living wood. He also recommended that the tree be reassessed by an arborist after the next growing season and after any major storm events.”
On November 30, 2011 Corrales arborist Rob Hays trimmed the westernmost of the two trees at no charge, and paid a helper from his own pocket. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXX, No.22, January 7, 2012 “Historic Old Church Cottonwood Doomed? Council May Have Sawdust on its Hands.”) Even so, on a tie-break vote by then-mayor Phil Gasteyer, the Village Council voted the troublesome old tree be cut down and hauled away. In protest, all members of the Landmark Tree Preservation Advisory Committee resigned.
The original landmark tree ordinance spelled out the process by which a Corrales tree can be protected as a landmark. Below is partial text of the ordinance which will likely be retained by the council’s vote this month. “Within ninety (90) days after receiving a nomination, the Tree Committee shall review the recommendation and supporting materials, and shall make a recommendation to the Village’s Planning and Zoning Commission whether the tree should be designated as a Landmark Tree.
To qualify for designation as a Landmark Tree, a tree must as a minimum meet at least one of the following criteria:
(1) Exceptional size for the species as measured by caliper, height, and/or breadth;
(2) Old age for the species;
(3) Distinctive and/or exemplary form for the species;
(4) Historical significance by virtue of location or history, including but not limited to proximity to a historic building, site, or road, or association with an historic event or person in the Village’s past; or
(5) Position as a defining feature in the Village landscape due to location, public view, history, or similar qualities.
(d) No tree of a species that has been determined to be invasive or noxious by the State of New Mexico shall be designated as a Landmark Tree, and no such tree shall be qualified to be nominated for Landmark Tree status. It is desirable that trees nominated as Landmark Trees shall be of species native to the Corrales area.
(e) For purposes of evaluating nominations, the Tree Committee shall develop a set of criteria for the evaluation of trees meeting at least one of the minimum qualifying criteria. The committee may include such criteria as the Tree Committee deems appropriate, and may include but need not be limited to trunk circumference, height, crown spread, symmetry, or distinctive form, location and history. The Committee may, but need not necessarily, employ a set of criteria developed for use by another governmental entity, either inside or outside New Mexico.
(f) If the Tree Committee determines that a tree nominated for landmark status meets at least one of the minimum qualifying criteria, then the Committee shall evaluate the nomination and forward it to the Planning and Zoning Commission with a recommendation either to designate the tree as a Landmark Tree, or not to so designate it, with a brief explanation of the reasons for the Committee’s recommendation.
(g) Notice of any meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission where a proposal to designate a tree as a Landmark Tree will be considered must include individual notice, by certified mail, of the meeting date, time and location, including notice of the proposed Landmark Tree designation, to each owner of private property any portion of which is within fifty (50) feet of the dripline of the tree. In addition, a notice containing the same information shall be conspicuously placed in the most publicly visible location adjacent to the proposed Landmark Tree at least fifteen (15) days prior to the scheduled meeting.
(h) In determining whether to designate a particular tree for landmark status, the Planning and Zoning Commission shall not be bound by the recommendation of the Tree Committee.
(i) If a tree properly nominated for landmark status and meeting at least one of the minimum qualifying criteria is not designated by the Planning and Zoning Commission as a Landmark Tree, then it shall nonetheless be designated as a Nominated Tree and placed on a register of Nominated Trees for possible future consideration as a Landmark Tree. A Nominated Tree is eligible for reconsideration by the Planning and Zoning Commission for landmark status, on the recommendation of any person or entity, at any time after one (1) year following the date of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision. A request for reconsideration must be accompanied by a demonstration, to the Tree Committee, that all owners of property or easement within fifty (50) feet of the dripline of the tree consent to the proposed designation and that all other necessary conditions for nomination still apply. Notice of the meeting at which a Nominated Tree will be reconsidered for Landmark Tree status shall be the same as required upon an original nomination.
(j) If a tree located on public property is designated as a Landmark Tree, the Village shall place a suitable marker on the designated tree bearing substantially the following statement: “LANDMARK
TREE – do not trim or remove without Village of Corrales approval.”
(k) If a tree located entirely or partly on private property is designated as a Landmark Tree, the Village shall promptly notify the property owner or owners of the tree’s status as a Landmark Tree, and shall include notice of the restrictions on damage or removal of Landmark Trees, the requirement of notification to future landowners, and the penalties for improperly damaging or removing a Landmark Tree, as provided in this article.
(l) Any person dissatisfied with a decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding designation or non-designation of a tree as a Landmark Tree may appeal that decision within 20 days, in writing, to the Governing Body. The Governing Body, on appeal, may affirm or reverse the decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The decision of the Governing Body shall be final.
Section 14-130. – Protection of landmark trees.
(a) No person shall remove or damage any Landmark Tree, whether on public or private property, except as otherwise provided in this article. Normal pruning or trimming of trees on private property is expressly permitted. Except in case of emergencies as provided in this article, normal pruning or trimming is limited to pruning or trimming for the health and maintenance of the tree, in accordance with the current ANSI A300 standards of the Tree Care Industry Association. Excessive pruning or damage to the root system that threatens the life or health of any Landmark Tree is prohibited, except as otherwise specifically provided in this section.
(b) Any property owner desiring to remove a Landmark Tree shall submit an application for Landmark Tree removal to the Tree Committee, stating the reasons for the removal request. Within thirty (30) days following receipt of the application, the Tree Committee shall forward the application for Landmark Tree removal to the
Village’s Planning and Zoning Administrator, with the Committee’s recommendation whether to approve the application. The Planning and Zoning Administrator shall promptly either grant or deny the application. The Planning and Zoning Administrator shall take into account the recommendation of the Committee, but shall not be bound by that recommendation.”