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Tree Regulation Triggers Private Property Debate in Holladay

Stately, old trees stand at the heart of Holladay’s identity.

But some residents are saying proposed city limits on tree cutting go too far. And that’s made the tree ordinance the subject of some lively, civic debate in the East Bench community.

“I’m proud that I can be kind of the point man for an effort to protect the trees in Holladay,” says Steven Gunn, a city councilman.

He’s also a member of the Holladay Tree Committee, which has been drafting possible changes to the city code. The idea is to protect the tree canopy and end clear-cutting of big trees unless there’s a plan to replace them.

“The ordinance does not attempt to regulate landscaping decisions by individual lot owners,” says Gunn, trying to correct misinformation about the proposal.

Gunn says the proposal has economic, aesthetic and environmental benefits. And he points out that there are already rules on the books about cutting down healthy trees on rights-of way, along streams and on other public places.

But he also understands why the proposed changes have become a hot-button issue.

“The ordinance,” he says, “raises the issue of what is the proper role of government.”

That’s exactly the concern of opponents like Holladay resident David Dean, a real estate agent and retired developer

“It’s not just about trees to me,” he says. “It’s about the principle of government intrusion in our lives and limiting that intrusion.”

Dean appreciates the towering cottonwoods that shade his morning walks. But he thinks the ordinance is government overreach because it affects private property.

Holladay’s tree-regulation advocates “are proposing adjustments to those current ordinances,” he concedes, “but they’re going far beyond that.”

In particular, Dean objects to punishing knowing violators with a Class B misdemeanor. He says education and incentives would be smarter.

Even though they are on different sides of the issue, both Dean and Gunn welcome the debate, which is expected to continue in earnest the next time the Planning Commission meets to review the latest proposal. The lack of a quorum prompted the commission to cancel its meeting scheduled for this week.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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