Conroe City Council members voted May 26 to restore its vegetation ordinance to that from before the city updated its ordinance Dec. 13, 2018; the motion comes as an effort to revisit development guidelines and preserve more trees across the city as development picks up, city leaders said.
The city's vegetation ordinance sets the minimum standards for the preservation and planting of trees during development, Chapter 102 of the Conroe Code of Ordinances reads.
Council voted 3-2 to amend the ordinance language with Council Members Curt Maddux and Todd Yancey voting against.
“I truly think the tree ordinance needs to be changed, but I think we owe it to the committee that has been working for 10 months. ... I think we owe it to engineering and that committee to let them present that [new ordinance] in two weeks, that we don’t make a knee-jerk reaction, that we do give them the opportunity to show their ordinance that they worked 10 months [on]," Maddux said during the meeting, noting a new draft ordinance had been completed earlier in the week.
Community Impact Newspaper previously reported the Dec. 13, 2018, ordinance eliminated tree survey equipment, increased the minimum size from 6 inches to 8 inches or greater in diameter for trees that are protected from being cut down, and provided additional credit for single-tree preservation and planting. Therefore, reverting the ordinance to its language pre-2018 would protect trees at least 6 inches in diameter instead of 8 inches.
A new ordinance in the works—which council had not yet had the opportunity to review before the May 26 meeting—proposes a 25-foot residential buffer for single-family and multifamily properties and a 50-foot buffer until 75% of homes are built out, among other canopy protections, city representatives said during the meeting.
However, Council Member Marsha Porter claimed the prior ordinance was worked on for two years, while the new draft ordinance had only been worked on since January; committee members who spoke during the meeting said John Mangiameli with the Conroe Building Department began working on the draft in July, however.
“The old ordinance is a much stronger tree ordinance right now. It does need adjustments," Porter said. "This still has an awful lot of problems, and it’s not protecting the trees like it needs to be protected.”
Council members cautioned the move to the previous ordinance language is temporary while the tree ordinance committee further refines a new ordinance.
"I think the knee-jerk reaction today would be to adopt or think about adopting the new ordinance. I think going back to the old one and then moving forward with some of the conceptual ideas that Mr. Mangiameli has put in the new ordinance is so important. I think there’s a middle ground here. I do not think we have to draw battle lines. ... I think everyone on this council understands the need for development," Council Member Duke Coon said during the meeting. "I think we take this [ordinance] back, hit the pause button and let a committee work to ultimately develop the best tree ordinance in the state of Texas.”
However, representatives from the development community said during a public hearing preceding the vote that they opposed the change in language. Developers also spoke out against the city's 3-2 vote to increase the minimum lot size from 40 feet wide to 50 feet wide during the same meeting.
“It will not have the intended impact of increasing the number of trees; it will decrease the variety of housing options to homebuyers as many are interested in smaller, manageable lots," said Chris Ferguson, director of land development for the Friendswood Development Co., which has developed communities such as Ladera Creek in Conroe and Moran Ranch, which is starting in Willis. "It will negatively and unfairly impact raw land values. It will increase finished home values, making homeownership further out of reach for many.”
Porter said she requested City Administrator Paul Virgadamo Jr. head up the existing tree ordinance committee and Maddux replace former Council Member Raymond McDonald on the committee.
“I know everybody up here wants to preserve those trees and understands there’s a balance. You can’t have a community without development, but you’ve got to have a community that has trees and a council that listens to those who elect us," Coon said.
Conroe City Council will meet again June 8-9.