This story was corrected on April 26, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Moments before he hoisted a shovelful of dirt around the newly planted yellowwood tree outside the Bethesda Library on Friday, County Executive Isiah Leggett described his tree canopy bill as balanced and fair.
The tree planting, organized by the nonprofit group Conservation Montgomery, took place on Arbor Day, but was also was meant to publicize Leggett’s Tree Canopy Conservation bill (35-12), which a county council committee will take up on June 24.
The bill aims to save and expand the county’s tree canopy by minimizing the loss of trees during development, especially in smaller projects and private lots. Homeowners or builders who were constructing a new home, adding more than 5,000 square feet to an existing home or excavating 100 cubic yards, or anyone else who has to get a sediment control permit, would be required to pay into a fund for tree canopy conservation.
The proposed fees are on a sliding scale from 25 cents per square foot up to $1.35 per square foot of canopy lost, according to the bill.
Agricultural lands would be exempt from the law and Pepco and other utility companies would not be subject to the new fees.
Initially, when the bill was first discussed, some builders objected to it. In a letter to the council committee, Clark Wagner of Pleasants Development wrote, “The bill is in essence just a tax on builders and home owners.”
Legget said the county has made a lot of progress and the bill is well-balanced.
“There are still some questions,” he said, but he attributed opposition to misleading information and “orchestrated confusion.”
Underneath a canopy of Northern red oaks, maples and crabapples, Leggett spoke about the important role trees play in cleaning air, ground water and providing shade in the summer.
“Montgomery County has lost a lot of trees,” Leggett said, adding that the county’s urban tree canopy was in danger from new development and the “mansionization” of old neighborhoods. “You simply cannot easily replace those trees that are lost.”
He urged the crowd, of about 20 local residents, to contact members of the county council.
“We do not want to wake up one day without trees,” Leggett said.
Around the corner of the library from where the yellowwood was planted, the nonprofit group also planted a white flowering dogwood. Each tree installed cost $200 to $300, said Laura Miller, an arborist for the county,
Caren Madsen, chair of Conservation Montgomery, said she thought the bill had a good chance of becoming law. She was counting on active and vocal residents to put pressure on the council.
“Trees are important to people in this county,” she said, adding that 2014 was an election year in Montgomery County. “People will remember who voted for and against it.”
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect year for the next Montgomery County election.