Will Charlotte’s tree ordinance changes be enough to save our tree canopy?

The City of Charlotte’s Planning Department started hosting stakeholder meetings in March with the goal of updating its Tree Ordinance, and invited Sustain Charlotte to be a part of them. We participated in each of the four meetings, providing our knowledge and insight into how important trees are to our Urban Neighborhoods.

Uptown trees and sidewalk chalk


In the end, a few key areas in the ordinance are being prepared for the update. The City’s plan is to have the text amendment in front of City Council by the fall.

3 focus areas trees

The purpose of the text amendment was to better adapt the current ordinance to the increasing urban footprint of the city. The current ordinance is written with limited flexibility and geared towards suburban design standards.

The three areas that were worked on during the four meetings in March and April included:

  • Perimeter Trees (better known as street trees)
  • Internal Trees Requirements
  • The Tree Save Program

A narrow and focused scope was employed by city staff to keep the changes in this Tree Ordinance text amendment manageable. More changes will be coming in the next few years with the 2040 Comprehensive City Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

short term goals tree canopy

Some of the possible changes coming in the text amendment include:

Perimeter Trees/Street Trees

perimeter trees

Internal Trees

internal trees

Tree Save

TreeSave current trees

The Bigger Picture and a Tree Future

Sustain Charlotte supports the City’s commitment to reach the goal of a 50% Tree Canopy by 2050. Given the challenge of Charlotte’s rapid growth over the past decade and the possibility that the growth rate may increase, new ideas and flexibility must be introduced in order to reach the goal. If the above amendment changes are passed, this will be the first step to figuring out what will work and what will not. Patience, commitment, and care will be needed to make this work for the long term. Challenges this big will not be solved with just one try.

In fact, the idea of just one goal may not be enough. Many other cities are adding other measures with place-based benefit specific goals. This very type of approach was recommended to the Neighborhood and Development Committee by City staff during their May meeting. The result was to bring it before the full council for further discussion. What follows below are the recommendations by City staff:

Fifty by 2050 goals

Our Take

We encourage City leaders to continue trying and learning from these new approaches. To adapt and make the needed adjustments in order to achieve a more sustainable future. The most effective way forward will be having the right goals with a way of measuring achievement.

The way that the Tree Ordinance is worked into the broader Unified Development Ordinance and implemented will influence the quality of life for every person who lives in, works in, or visits Charlotte. Will your children and future residents of Charlotte enjoy the near 50% tree canopy that we all have enjoyed for decades?

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