Thursday, February 9, 2023

City of Wilmington uses developer in-lieu-of fees to pay for 285 new tree plantings around town

Several oak trees in Ogden are at risk for being razed to make way for a new carwash (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
(Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — More than 285 new trees are set to be planted in Wilmington after City Council approved a resolution that will spend nearly $100,000 to complete the project. The funding itself will not come from the city taxpayers but from developers who chose to pay in-lieu-of fees when completing their projects.

These ‘in-lieu-of’ fees allow developers to clear more trees from a property than would otherwise be allowed by the city’s tree protection ordinances.

Tree protection in Wilmington and New Hanover County has become a recent rallying cry for residents as developers continue to clear greenspace to make way for new homes and businesses. In fact, in 2018 it was estimated that just 9% of the city’s space was left vacant and buildable.

Despite the seemingly small amount of vacant space left, the City of Wilmington does have a relatively high tree canopy coverage area with 48% as reported by the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC).

Still, there has been a call for city leaders to preserve and protect trees in Wilmington and the region. Every year the city does an annual tree-planting and the allocation of the $95,000 was a part of this process, according to city spokeswoman Malissa Talbert.

“The City’s goal is to have two major tree plantings a year. The locations of these plantings will focus on areas that had tree loss and damage due to Hurricane Florence. The selected trees will be wind-resistant, be predominantly large-canopied trees, and contain a good mixture of small, medium, and large trees optimized for the available spaces. The plantings are being paid for by funds collected through tree mitigation payment in-lieu,” according to City Council’s agenda from Tuesday.

The city put out a request for proposals at the end of 2019 for the project and had four different bidders, ultimately deciding to go with Good Earth to plant the 285 trees around the city.

Mayor Bill Saffo made a short video presentation on the vote prior to the City Council meeting on Monday via Facebook and the city responded to several of the comments coming in from viewers. One of the questions was why the city decided to go with a contractor to plant the trees instead of using city staff.

“The trees are being funded by charges paid by developers that cut down trees rather than save or replant them, or fines paid for illegally cutting down trees. The reason we are using contract crews for this project instead of city staff is two-fold: the project can get done much faster and our limited city crews don’t have to be taken away from their existing jobs of maintaining city trees in public areas and doing a smaller number of plantings in other locations. The company doing the planting was selected through a competitive bid process in accordance with state law. We know we have a lot of work to do to increase our tree canopy and this is another step toward that,” according to the City of Wilmington’s Facebook response.

The trees will range in types, from laurel oaks to crepe myrtles, and at the cost of about $95,000, that means each tree, planted, will cost the city about $333.

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