URBANA — City council members this week could move forward in establishing a "legacy tree" protection program they hope will preserve some of Urbana's biggest, rarest and most notable trees.
Council members will discuss the proposal when they meet as a committee of the whole at 7 p.m. today in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.
According to a memo to city council members, the program would allow any resident to nominate any publicly or privately owned tree for designation as a "legacy tree." The designation would require voluntary consent from the owner of the tree.
With that consent, the city's tree commission could approve or deny a "legacy tree" designation based on the tree's size, rarity, age, location or association with a historic event. If approved, the tree would go into a database of Urbana's most revered trees and city officials would install a small marker to denote the tree's designation.
The owner would be eligible for certain benefits, like up to 5 free cubic yards of mulch from the city's landscape recycling center.
The designation would make it harder for the owner — or the future owner, if the property changes hands after the designation is made — to cut a tree down.
City officials have said that Urbana is losing notable trees at a rate of about one or two per year, and cutting down a legacy tree would require a permit from the city arborist. Unless the removal is for health or safety reasons, a mandatory 45-day waiting period would start once the owner requests that permit.
During that time, the tree would be marked with a sign to notify passers-by that it might be coming down, and the tree commission would convene a special hearing on the request. Members of the public could submit comments on the request to cut the tree down, and those opinions would be given in writing to the tree's owner.
None of those steps would prohibit the owner from cutting the tree down after the 45-day waiting period.
City staff had proposed a more stringent program during an initial discussion earlier this year.
— potentially designating trees regardless of whether the property owner consents and fees up to $1,000 if an owner cut down a legacy tree. Council members at that time said they preferred a program with voluntary consent from the property owner and no fines or fees associated with the designation.