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Neighborhood Forest Overlay

Published June 2019 By STEVE HOUSER / Past Chair, City of Dallas Urban Forest Advisory Committee

Should homeowners have the ability to regulate what happens to trees in their neighborhoods?

In early 2018, Dallas City Council passed an updated tree and landscape ordinance (Article X), which was based on a compromise among builders, developers, and tree advocates. The updated ordinance was many years in the making. Unfortunately, the revisions do not require preserving even our largest and oldest trees, with the exception of historic trees recognized by City Council. It also does not regulate homeowner properties under two acres where the majority of our large and old trees are located.

During the early years of negotiations from 2005 to 2009, the Director of Development Services was asked if a citywide overlay such as those used in historic districts could be established by citizens to regulate trees on private property. The Director, as well as a City Attorney, agreed it was possible if approved by City Council.

A part of the negotiations regarding Article X involved an agreement among the various parties (mostly builders, developers, city staff, and tree folks) to support the establishment of a Neighborhood Forest Overlay (NFO). However, deliberations regarding an NFO required a separate effort from the Article X process. In 2018 and 2019, the NFO proposal was approved by a unanimous decision of the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee, City Plan Commission, the Quality of Life Committee, and the full City Council.

In essence, an NFO is a neighborhood-driven process that allows citizens to establish their own tree regulations using Article X as a foundation. An NFO affords citizens a process for self-0regulations based on the support of the majority of citizens within a neighborhood or grouping of ten or more lots (homes) with mature large or medium-sized trees.

If an NFO is proposed in an area, citizens can vote for, or lobby against its establishment. Rather than being another government regulation, it is simply a tool that provides citizens a voice in the future of their neighborhood's urban forest, should they choose to do so. City staff provide a petition, hold public meetings, and provide support for the process. Various options are provided for homeowner consideration including the establishment of forest canopy cover goals or the preservation of historic trees.

All citizens deserve an opportunity to be proactive in managing their urban forest, should they choose to do so. Although there are historic overlays that affect trees, we could not find any other overlays around the nation that were dedicated specifically to trees or forests. As a result, we hope the establishment of an NFO in Dallas will set a new standard for citizen involvement in the care of trees in their neighborhoods.

Could your neighborhood use an NFO?

About the author

Mr. Steve Houser

Mr. Houser is a Dallas native with almost 40 years of experience as a consulting arborist and expert tree climber. He is the president and owner of Arborilogical Services, “The Experts Your Trees Deserve.”®

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