Town takes root as Tree City USA Hampstead law rules 'urban forest' NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

October 07, 1992|By Linda Lowe Morris | Linda Lowe Morris,Staff Writer

In the next few weeks, the Norway maples along Main Street in Hampstead will brighten the skies with their soft golden color and fill the sidewalks with big piles of crunchy leaves. For many people, they are the essence of autumn.

But for a professional tree expert, they are also a problem.

"The Norway maple is beautiful, but it has a rank root system that curls up the sidewalks," said Neil Ridgely, landscape and forest conservation project manager for Carroll County Government. "And it only lives 30 to 40 years. Just when it looks its best, it's running out of life span."

Both the problems and the pleasures of trees have inspired the town of Hampstead to pass Ordinance No. 228, popularly known as the tree ordinance, which will take effect this weekend.

"You have to look at a town as an urban forest. It's a very different and complex structure from a rural forest. We're trying to think ahead so that we can see Hampstead 60 to 100 years from now," said Mr. Ridgely, an adviser to the town's tree commission.

The commission has been meeting for a year and working on the wording of the ordinance.

If you drive along Route 30 through Hampstead -- and on into Manchester, which is in the process of formulating its own tree ordinance -- you'll see sidewalks buckled by tree roots, trees whose branches are intertwined with utility lines and trees pruned into bizarre shapes. What's worse, you'll see long stretches where no trees grow at all.

By including lists of recommended and non-recommended trees, the new ordinance is designed to give guidance to people who are planting new trees. It also stipulates that any branch or root pruning should be done only by a licensed tree professional. And, it provides for the creation of the tree commission, a group of 10 people who will act as stewards for the town's trees.

Having a tree ordinance will enable Hampstead to become a "Tree City USA," which is a national recognition given by the Arbor Day Foundation. The Tree City USA designation goes to communities that have made an obvious commitment to trees by allocating tax money to tree planting, by celebrating Arbor Day and by passing a town tree ordinance.

Being a Tree City USA enables a municipality to apply for grant money for tree planting. This money must be spent with local landscape contractors and nurserymen.

The Hampstead tree commission includes Dick Weaver, Emil Deckert, Jim Piet, Donna Baker, Tom Young, Jackie Hyatt, Kelly Baxter, and chairman Leo Hastings. It already has increased the number of trees in town. Last spring members planted trees at the swimming pool. They have plans to do more planting on Route 30 north of town.

"Shade makes a big difference in the microclimate," said Mr. Ridgely. "It's cooler here than in downtown Baltimore because of air circulation and the forested environment."

In addition to its eight permanent members, the commission also includes two student members who will serve one-year terms.

Commission members studied hundreds of trees before preparing the list of recommendations in the ordinance. They chose small- to medium-sized trees whose root systems aren't invasive -- ones that would not be likely to break up sidewalks or clog sewer lines.

Some of the approved trees include zelkova, red maple, American yellow-wood, thornless honey locust, little leaf linden, Chinese elm, Carolina silverbell, Sargent cherry, hornbeam maple, Tatarian maple, purpleblow maple, European hornbeam, ironwood, Japanese snowbell, Chinese dogwood, Cornelian cherry, golden raintree, purple leaf plum, Oriental cherry and Amur maackia.

The nine trees considered unacceptable for roadside planting are mimosa, tree of heaven, silver maple, catalpa, black walnut, pawlonia, hybrid poplar, Lombardy poplar and Siberian elm.

Almost every tree on the unacceptable list, except the silver ma

ple and black walnut, is a fast-growing but short-lived tree. As soon as they reach maturity, these trees start losing branches in storms.

Trees that reach a height of 50 feet or more are not considered suitable for street planting. But, as Mr. Ridgely notes, the choice of trees depends on their planting location. "Everything has to be flexible," he said.

There is an appeals process included in the ordinance.

Also, the ordinance covers only roadside trees. There are no restrictions on the types of trees that people plant in their back yards or in areas away from the road.

"Hopefully the tree ordinance will get people to think about what they're planting," Mr. Ridgely said.

Residents can pick up a copy of the tree ordinance and the list of recommended trees at the town office. The tree commission will advise people who are considering planting a large number of trees or creating a wildlife habitat on their property.

The ordinance also prohibits tree topping, which is defined as cutting branches back to stubs larger than 3 inches in diameter within the tree canopy.

"You see a lot of tree topping in Carroll County, where people have planted a tree in the wrong place," Mr. Ridgely said. Under the tree plan, a property owner won't be able to have a tree topped without a permit. Those will be issued when a tree interferes with utility lines or suffers storm damage.

Trees on street corners must be no less than 35 feet from the corner. If a tree is blocking the view of traffic at an intersection, the owner might be ordered to have it removed.

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