STICKy Situations – Steep Slope Ordinance: a hypothetical dilemma

Note: STICKy Situations is a blog that discusses problems involving people and trees.

Background Information:

The City of Asheville, NC has a Steep Slope and Ridgetop Development Ordinance that went into effect in 2007.  Basically, this ordinance exists to ensure the preservation of the unique character of the mountains and the appropriate use of the hillsides.  To read the entire ordinance go to: http://www.bphomeowners.org/P&Z%20Docs/steep_slope_071007.pdf

Steep slopes are designated as those areas at or above 2220 feet in elevation above mean sea level and having an existing grade of 15% or more.

Steep slopes are categorized into two Zones, A and B.  Zone A applies to properties with an elevation between 2220-2350 feet, while Zone B includes properties with an elevation above 2350. While both zones are designated steep slope areas, land disturbing and tree removal activity in Zone B is more restrictive due to the potential for environmental hazards and the need to preserve slope stability.

Areas defined as steep slope Zone “B” shall preserve existing vegetation even if there is no land disturbing activity associated with the tree removal. A few exceptions include:

  • Areas approved by the City via permitting and designated on approved plans for development; and
  • Trees within ten (10) feet of a building footprint; and
  • Invasive/exotic (non-native) species or trees deemed as dead or dying by a qualified individual.

If a property owner desires to remove trees and other protected vegetation from a steep slope area, he or she may submit an alternate landscape plan for consideration by the Asheville Tree Commission.  The Tree Commission may approve, approve with conditions, or deny the alternative landscape plan.

Hypothetical Dilemma:

The following situation represents a hypothetical dilemma, but it is one that could very well be real.

The Tree Commission simultaneously receives alternative landscape plans from two different property owners, the “Olds” and the “News.”  Both properties are located in Zone B steep slope areas.  The Olds built their house 50 years ago and most of the trees and vegetation surrounding their house are approximately the same age as the house; their neighborhood had been logged just before development.  The News built their house within the past year, but most of the trees and vegetation surrounding their house are also approximately 50 years old.  Both property owners want to trim and remove some trees and vegetation to improve their views.

Questions:

Should the alternative landscape plans submitted by the Olds and the News for the removal of trees and vegetation for view improvement purposes be treated equally by the Tree Commission?  Is length of time of ownership of any consequence in this instance?  Is the removal of trees and vegetation for view improvement purposes compatible with the intent of the steep slope ordinance, particularly in Zone B areas?  Does the steep slope ordinance allow for any vegetation removal strictly for view clearing purposes in either Zone A or B, and, if so, under what circumstances would view clearing be allowed?

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