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City revising tree policy

New homes in Dickinson could be required to have one tree in the front yard and for corner lots two trees more along the adjacent street. Dickinson Planning & Zoning Commission held a work session in January to discuss the new ordinance. The ...

City of Dickinson is considering an ordinance that would require new homes to have one tree in the front yard, and for corner lots two more trees along the street. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)
City of Dickinson is considering an ordinance that would require new homes to have one tree in the front yard, and for corner lots two more trees along the street. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

New homes in Dickinson could be required to have one tree in the front yard and for corner lots two trees more along the adjacent street.

Dickinson Planning & Zoning Commission held a work session in January to discuss the new ordinance.

The burden for ensuring that a tree is planted with a new house would fall on the developer, City Attorney Jan Murtha explained.

"If the developer has provided an approved plan, but the landscaping did not go in and the homeowner subsequently purchases the lot," she said, "the homeowner is not going to be responsible for the additional landscaping if it's already covered by the surety."

City Commissioner Jason Fridrich argued a problem remained with accountability. In the past, correction orders have been forgotten and deposits left unclaimed.

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"We issue temporary certificates of occupancy, and then we let people move in and close on their house without a tree," he said. "This happens every day."

To receive a certificate of occupancy, a homeowner must provide a site plan and show where the trees will be placed, City Planner Walter Hadley explained.

"At the time it was ready to be finaled, (the building Inspector) would not final it until those trees were placed in locations that were approved," Hadley said.

Fridrich argued houses would not be able to plant trees in winter months.

"How are we going to plant trees in January or December?" he asked. "That's not going to be a workable possibility."

Murtha suggested including a timeframe with the code.

"For example, if a final certificate of occupancy is requested between this month and this month, the landscaping requirements must be met," she said. "However, if it is requested from a different sets of months, you could indicate a temporary certificate of occupancy could be requested, however it must meet the landscaping requirements within the growth periods you had identified."

City Building Inspector Leonard Schwindt explained issuing a temporary certificate based on landscaping and trees has been "problematic."

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He advised against tying the certificate to the tree requirement.

"Once somebody gets in a home we're not going to take the seal away because they didn't plant trees," he said. "The effort it takes to come back, send the letters... We really have no teeth to make somebody plant a tree."

Fridrich advocated issuing correction actions.

"These temporary (change orders) are problematic. I've hated since the day we started doing them because they just cause issues," he said. "I'm more in favor of issuing a (change order) with a correction notice, and the fine will go to the builder if it's not done."

Commissioners agreed trees should be placed on boulevards, and where one is not present in the front yards.

Mayor Scott Decker spoke against any language specifying a location for the tree.

"I'm for planting trees, but I'm for planting where you want it in your yard," he said. "I defer to the landowner, what they find appealing, because it is their property ultimately. If they want to plant two in the front yard, they should be able to plant two."

A draft of the new ordinance will be brought to the Planning & Zoning meeting on Feb. 21.

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