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Update (3/18/2019)

The Council would like to thank all who attended and testified at the March 12 Public Hearing on Regulation of Tree Removal on Private Property.

On April 4, the Legislative Matters Committee will begin discussion of the Proposed Tree Preservation Ordinance linked to here.

The Council encourages the public to continue to participate in this important effort to best protect the mature urban forest and significant private trees.

To review the proposed ordinance, which differs in a number of ways from the proposed zoning amendment, click here. Further opportunities for comment will be announced broadly and posted here.

Members of the public are invited to attend and speak at a Public Hearing on Tuesday, March 12, on proposed changes to the Somerville Zoning Ordinance that would regulate the removal of significant trees from all private property, including residential property, in the city. The hearing, held by the City Council Land Use Committee of the Whole, will take place March 12, after 6 p.m., at City Hall, along with several other consecutive public hearings. Written testimony may also be submitted to and 

This Council-proposed amendment sponsored by Ward 5 City Councilor Mark Niedergang, Ward 2 City Councilor J.T. Scott, and Ward 7 City Councilor and Council President Katjana Ballantyne aims to protect significant trees and the mature urban forest by, among other proposals: requiring a special permit application including “a plan drawn and stamped by a registered land surveyor or landscape architect showing all existing Significant Trees on the property,” a review of the permit by a Permit Granting Authority (to be designated), either a plan showing replanting of species-appropriate replacement trees or a payment in lieu of replanting to cover the costs of purchase, planting, and five years of maintenance of the equivalent caliper value of trees (e.g., a number of smaller trees to make up for removal of one large one). The core of the proposed ordinance, which would apply to all private property, is below. To view the full amendment, please visit  

b) Significant Trees. The City Arborist may declare a tree not Significant if they find that it is either hazardous or undesirable. In addition, the City Arborist may designate trees as Significant based on age, species, health, meaning within the community, historical importance, and similar factors that are substantially equivalent.

c) Procedures. Removal of a Significant Tree requires a Special Permit. When applying for a Special Permit to Remove a Significant Tree, the applicant shall submit a plan drawn and stamped by a registered land surveyor or landscape architect showing all existing Significant Trees on the property, including the species and diameter at 4.5 feet (DBH) of each Significant Tree. The submitted plan should clearly indicate the following:

  1. which trees are to be removed and which trees are to be retained;
  2. protective measures to be taken for any retained trees in accordance with species and planting standards as defined by the City Arborist and Urban Forestry Committee; and
  3. the location, species, and planting plan for any proposed new trees.

In its discretion to approve or deny a Special Permit, the Special Permit Granting Authority (SPGA) shall make findings considering the following:

  1. That the preservation of existing, mature trees is preferred to the planting of new trees.
  2. The health of the trees as it relates to damage, disease, or as a threat to public health or safety.
  3. The pace of tree removal and replanting with the neighborhood and citywide.
  4. Any written input from the Urban Forestry Committee, the City Arborist, or the Tree Warden.

As a condition of any special permit authorizing the removal of a significant tree, the SPGA shall require the following:

  1. Replacement. The plan showing the planting of new trees equal to the Replacement Caliper. Trees must be planted on the same or adjacent lot and must conform to species and planting standards as defined by the City Arborist and Urban Forestry Committee. Planting of replacement trees must be completed prior to final inspection and is required prior to issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.
  2. Payment. Payment may be made in lieu of planting some or all of the replacement trees. The amount of the payment shall be determined based on a quote from a local greenhouse that includes the trees, the planting costs, and maintenance of the trees for five years. The quote shall be for a quantity of trees sufficient to make up the difference between what is shown on the plan and the replacement caliper. Payment shall be made prior to issuance of the special permit.

In case of damage that constitutes removal of any significant tree, the tree must be replaced or a payment made as described above.

d) Enforcement. Upon notice that work on any lot on which a significant tree is located is being performed without a Special Permit, such work shall be immediately stopped by the Director of Inspectional Services or designee. The stop work order shall be in writing and shall be given to the owner of the lot involved or to the owner’s agent, or to the person doing the work, and shall state the conditions under which work will be permitted to resume.

Whenever there exists reasonable cause to believe that a person is violating any applicable provision of this section, the City may institute a civil action for a mandatory or prohibiting injunction in a court of competent jurisdiction ordering the defendant to correct the unlawful condition or to cease the unlawful use of the property.

e) Penalties. Each instance in which any and each significant tree is improperly removed is a separate violation of this section. Failure to appropriately protect any and each significant tree is a separate violation of this section. Each day a violation continues is a separate offense.

All fines described in this section must be credited to the Tree Replacement Fund.

If a Significant Tree is found to have been improperly removed, The SPGA shall not issue any Special Permits for the lot from which the Significant Tree was removed for a duration equal to the Lookback Period (18 months). In addition, the property owner will be subject to a fine, the amount of which will be determined according to Section 10.6.4.d of this ordinance under “Replacement.”

Any contractor or arborist who improperly removes a Significant Tree absent a Special Permit will be subject to a fine in the amount of $100 per inch DBH of the removal. - 5 - Section 2. (Uncodified)

Event Documents

Document Type Time Posted
Meeting Notice Jan 29, 2019, 5:57pm
Agenda Mar 8, 2019, 9:42am




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