Citizens Want to Protect Trees from Builders
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Little Rock, Arkansas is struggling
with just how far to go in protecting two commodities that builders and
citizens may not value quite the same way-trees and open space. A citizens'
committee is proposing to set guidelines on the clearing of property for
development, in an effort to preserve the natural character of lands around
the city. Developers say the restrictions are going to be expensive, and
that the costs will be passed on to homebuyers and consumers in higher prices
for homes and products. But homeowners are concerned that the overall
quality of life and attractiveness of the city will suffer without some
controls. It's a debate raging across the country, as more and more
jurisdictions consider open space preservation.
It usually takes a crisis or controversy to heighten the awareness of elected
officials and prompt the citizenry to get involved. In the case of Little
Rock, it all started long ago with the excavation of a major chunk of the
Ouachita foothills to make way for a shopping center. The foothills are a
scenic backdrop that is rapidly shrinking as development in West Little Rock
moves forward. Citizens got riled recently when more than a million cubic
yards of dirt was moved for another shopping center anchored by Target and
Home Depot. Enough is enough, some said, and the City Board created a task
force to review changes to the city regulations on landscaping, excavation
and tree protection.
But developers are wondering out loud whether the public would be willing to
pay the price of restrictions, if they knew the costs. The scariest outcome,
according to builders, is that residential or commercial development could
come to a halt, which would make shopping for a quart of milk or a new home
somewhat problematic. Are you willing to sacrifice a few trees to avoid a
half-hour drive into the city? In response to developer concerns, the Little
Rock task force scaled back proposals to preserve large buffer zones of land
along streets and side areas. It also dropped a proposal to require
companies to do major landscaping of exiting parking lots.
Among the parts that survived are provisions that would require developers to
hire a landscape architect for projects larger than 2 acres, to identify what
trees exist and can be saved. In addition, all trees larger than 6 inches
around would have to be preserved in certain buffer areas. The draft
ordinance would fine violators $250 per day for each tree cut in violation of
the developer's landscape plan. It would also place guidelines for the
terracing and landscaping of land when a hillside is excavated.
Some open-space advocates point out that, on average, trees increase the
value of lots by 5-7 percent, or as much as 20 percent, and that helps the
developer's bottom line. And overdevelopment or congestion can hurt a
region's quality of life and ability to attract new residents.
Sources used to create this article include Leslie Newell Peacock and the