Council hears comments as it adopts law curbing excessive tree cutting

Public split on ordinance, but environmental committee rep approve.

Residents and other curious minds attended the Medford Township Council meeting on Oct. 6, objecting, advocating for or requesting more revisions to a controversial ordinance eventually adopted to curb excessive tree cutting by residents.

COVID-19 restrictions mandated that Police Chief Rich Meder and Township Manager Kathy Burger cap meeting attendance inside the courtroom; that limit was reached within moments of the session’s official start. Most attendees were there to hear the outcome and public hearing of the tree ordinance, as reported by The Sun on Sept. 30.

The story can be viewed by visiting MedfordSun.com.

Councilman Brad Denn, the ordinance’s main author along with the Environmental Affairs Committee, spoke prior to the public hearing to correct misconceptions and falsehoods about the legislation. Chip Germain, a certified arborist with the EAC,  reviewed the ordinance before approving it.

“The ordinance is a good ordinance,” he, Denn, read from a prepared statement. “It balances the rights of the property owner while preventing clear cutting. Clear cutting causes problems with stormwater management, wetland rules and Pinelands Commission rules.”

Some property owners are in legal trouble for cutting, Denn added, so Medford Township stepped in to curb such action. Real estate agents and landscapers are expected to inform residents about the ordinance if they seek work on a property.

Between the Sept. 15 and Oct. 6 council meetings, Solicitor Tim Prime explained acreage limits in the ordinance, along with new tree maximums, permitted construction (pools, patios, etc.) and homeowner site plans. The proposal can be viewed by visiting MedfordTownship.com.

Emails between council and the public showed residents were evenly split on the ordinance. Denn also explained the adopted ordinance is less strict than the one proposed by the EAC.

Resident Jason Kleinman, who created a Facebook group opposed to the ordinance, called it “unconscionable” to have the legislation up for a hearing during the pandemic.  He continued to speak about council ruling against the three-tree limit, something  Prime said was created and is enforced after exemptions are considered.

“The number of three or 10 trees allowed, that might be good for a quarter-acre lot in a subdivision, but Medford is not all the same,” he noted. “I’m on a two-and-a-half acre lot, and more than half of that is woods. In those woods are trees that fall down all of the time.”

The resident recalled his wife’s fear of a tree falling and striking his home; the couple  would not need a permit for removal. Denn responded that Kleinman’s case is covered under imminent danger exemptions.

Residents who recently moved to the township from river towns credited their relocation  to Medford’s documented greenery. Others who opposed the ordinance questioned why residents are restricted to the limits but not developers. They did not get an answer.

A request was made to include the 30-foot wildfire buffer in the ordinance so residents can be protected if fire breaks out. A clear answer on that was not given, but Prime said council could add an amendment on the ordinance.

“We need to protect our trees. They serve not just as a protection from soil erosion in storm drains, but also they keep our soil fertilized and moistened so they do not dry out and we plant better grass and trees,” commented resident Pam Sloves. “What I would like to add to the ordinance is a distinction between native and non-native specimens.”

Sloves expressed hope that trees could be defined as native species that promote environmental health, but she suggested the township press developers not to clear cut during construction of homes or commercial buildings.

Those in favor of the ordinance explained new residents can be held accountable if they clear their lots of trees. Zoning board member Brandon Umba informed meeting attendees that an appeal process is in place to object to a permit rejection.

The issue of the ordinance’s $25 permit fee was raised, given that  residents with higher incomes can afford to pay that amount. But Denn said the township does not foresee lowering the amount.

Council later voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance as it stood on Oct. 6. Prime said amendments can be included if council believes they’re needed.

Visit MedfordTownship.com to view the ordnance and the Oct. 20 meeting agenda. The session will begin at 7 p.m.