The Raleigh City Council seems a little lost in the woods over its tree protection ordinance, having bought in–temporarily at least–to developers’ concern that the ordinance is “too complicated.”

If you’ve been following the trail of bread crumbs over the past three years, it’s pretty clear what’s going on: a systematic stalling and watering down of a pretty straightforward and long overdue attempt at preserving some of the key arboreal life left in the city.

On Tuesday, after a brief squabble, the City Council voted to send the latest proposal to a committee of the whole for review. The committee is expected to take the matter up again in about two weeks. Until then, it would not be surprising to see the proposal yet again re-crafted after more “input” from the development community.

“Too complicated” may be the argument du jour, but we’re not buying it and neither should the council. Most Triangle communities have had tree protection ordinances in place for decades. Ask someone in Cary or Chapel Hill if the local development industry suddenly collapsed, unable to deal with the complexity of saving heritage trees or important stands of rapidly disappearing species. No, development in those communities and elsewhere has ground on without missing a beat. The difference, though, is that a significant number of natural areas and clusters of old growth woods have been preserved, and the amount of wholesale, bufferless, in-your-face clear cutting has been reduced.

The real objection to Raleigh’s leap, it seems, is that developers are used to calling the shots, and a tree ordinance without their blessing cuts against that grain. Meanwhile, the clear cutting continues and more acres of urban forest are lost. A willow oak planted on the day a task force first took up the issue would have added 10 feet in the time it took for the ordinance to get on this week’s council agenda. Given the dynamics on the council, the time for action has arrived.

It’s a little hard to believe that the City of Oaks and the host community to one of the premier forestry schools in the country can’t get its caliper around that.

MLK Epilogue
Speaking of councils getting around to something, the Chapel Hill Town Council finally made official what has been happening in slow motion for a year or so: the renaming of Airport Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. We’d pat them on the back, but since a majority said they’d support the idea during the 2003 election, we’re more inclined to ask, “What took ya so long?”