TREE HUGGERS, 1; DEVELOPERS, 0 

It's true - to the delight of the environmental community and the chagrin of many developers - Garza led a renewed charge for a more restrictive tree preservation ordinance, which was three years overdue.

The ordinance went into effect immediately as the council unanimously voted for it after four-and-a-half hours of deliberation on March 13.

Not only did Garza take the reins after a developer-whipped Planning Commission watered down the proposed ordinance, he endorsed a tougher version offered by City staff. He added a few amendments and promised even more during the next few weeks.

(District 4 Planning Commissioner Samuel Luna had voted for the City staff's recommendations, but his voice was lost in the forest of pressure from the scorched earth lobby.)

For the past three months, developers who suspected the ordinance would be adopted doubled their efforts to ram projects through so as to include them under a grandfather

San Antonio citizens have seen too many desecrations of trees, and have cried out against companies such as Lowe's, Wal-Mart, and even Ronald McDonald, who have callously bulldozed large heritage trees in the name of home improvement, cheap household goods, and freedom fries.
clause. About 50,000 acres have been exempted from the ordinance.

The new ordinance requires limits on removing heritage trees 24 inches or larger in diameter, and requires three replacement trees if one is cut down. Developers had contended that size doesn't matter, and recommended merely replacing bulldozed trees with two, 2-inch diameter trees. Their preposterous offer didn't fly, and the ordinance was further tightened to require that 6-inch diameter trees be protected instead of the previously recommended 8 inches. The new rules also require a five-year tree warranty and requires that 80 percent of trees in a flood plain be preserved.

At the four-and-a-half hour Council meeting, developers and their lobby dogs threatened that costs would skyrocket for homebuyers if the city required trees to be preserved.

"Affordable housing is becoming a distant dream for San Antonio families," whined Rick Montelongo of Montelongo Homes & Remodeling. "Mitigating costs will be passed onto families who can barely pass a qualification to buy a new home." Translation: The tree ordinance is the enemy of homebuyers. Montelongo said if the City insists on hugging trees and enacting overbearing building regulations, it is in danger of becoming just like Austin - long known as a despotic haven for rabid environmentalists willing to go to extreme measures, such as chaining themselves to trees, to protect local flora and fauna.

An overwhelming number of residents sang, recited poetry, quoted the Bible, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Dr. Seuss in an effort to rustle up support for the ordinance. One resident recited a famous 1913 poem by Joyce Kilmer, from Trees and Other Poems:

"I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree."

Manuel Mier composed a song, "San Antonio, City of Trees," and crooned his new work to a delighted Council and audience: "We ask you to save our trees, we will need them in the future." The Citizens Tree Coalition's Richard Alles distributed copies of the lyrics, and sang along from his perch in the rear of the Council Chambers.

"I couldn't have sang it better myself," Mayor Garza said after the applause died down.

Susan Hughes, District 5 resident and a member of the Edwards Aquifer Authority board of directors, reminded Council that trees have a profound economic and environmental impact, and that greed-worshiping developers and their bootlick lobbyists who argued to weaken the ordinance were only interested in cutting costs of building their projects. She warned that, "Taxpayers will pay in the long term" if the City allows a watered-down tree preservation ordinance to go on the books.

Conservation Society President Jill Souter supported the mayor's amendments and the staff-recommended ordinance, and said San Antonio citizens have seen too many desecrations of trees, and have cried out against companies such as Lowe's, Wal-Mart, and even Ronald McDonald, who have callously bulldozed large heritage trees in the name of home improvement, cheap household goods, and freedom fries. "This tree preservation ordinance will be your gift to San Antonio's future," she remarked.

City Councilmembers' ears must have been pounding after the long hours of testimony, but Garza had more to say, and leveled both barrels at a handful of anti-ordinance lobbyists, at least one of whom was skulking from one side of the council chamber to the other, in a froth lest his client has to pay more to preserve trees and less to line his pockets.

Garza accused the development community of being unwilling to achieve a balance between turning a profit and preserving the environment. He said he began a series of meetings to debate the ordinance over the past few weeks after the Planning Commission slid over to the dark side of unabashed environmental destruction in the name of green money. He cited a loss of tree cover in San Antonio areas that have been grandfathered, and a public distrust in the development process: "We have been scarred." •


More by Michael Cary

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.