By Vic Remmers
This past January, Oregon was named the most popular state to move to for the third year in a row. This comes as no surprise to Portlanders. For years, the city has been publicly grappling with managing an influx of new residents — and subsequent new homes — while maintaining Portland’s affordability and keeping its character intact.
One factor at this pivotal time for Portland’s urban development? Preserving the hundreds of trees that make up the city’s idyllic neighborhoods.
The reasonable solution does not involve climbing trees in protest. It also won’t be accomplished by preventing builder property purchases. But, most importantly, the solution is not the “tree tax” currently proposed by the city of Portland.
Before detailing this proposed tax further, it’s important for readers to understand the current process Portland builders face in deciding whether or not to save a tree on a piece of property. It may come as a surprise that most builders prefer to preserve existing trees on their purchased properties. They add to the sustainable footprint, increase the aesthetic curb appeal and lead to less overall landscaping.
However, due to the current process set by the city of Portland, saving trees on newly purchased properties is an exercise in futility. To keep a tree that is 30 inches in diameter on a piece of property, Portland builders must allow a “root protection” zone equal to one square foot per inch in diameter, meaning builders are unable to build or disturb the land within this 30 square foot area. In urban lots, this limiting rule is often the demise of most trees that are removed during the sight planning process. While this requirement serves to protect trees with wide root ecosystems, it fails to account for the many deciduous Oregon trees that root down, in a narrow and deep manner.
After pressure from Portland residents, the city is now taking another misstep in an effort to save trees by proposing a “tree tax.” The tax, which is currently up for vote with the city of Portland, would impose a $10,000 tariff to tree removals of 36 inches in diameter. Trees over 50 inches in diameter would incur a $15,000 fee. This proposed tree tax comes at a time when Portland home builders are facing an incredible challenge — keeping up with Oregon’s residential influx and housing demand, while also maintaining affordability and the city’s character.
Introducing a tree tax will not stop builders from cutting down trees. If the city does not resolve their broken process, builders will unfortunately have no choice but to continue removing trees, with the cost accredited to future homebuyers.
Goodbye housing affordability and Portland’s iconic character.
So how can we work together to save hundreds of Portland trees? The city of Portland needs to reexamine its rules on tree root protection zones by working with an arborist group to determine root system needs on a species-by-species basis as opposed to a one-size-fits-all rule.
This amendment will come up for vote in the next two weeks. To have your voice heard, please write to Commissioner Dan Saltzman. It’s a simple fix that can prevent inflated home prices while allowing builders to save the trees they so desperately would like to.