New ordinance to stop clear-cutting in O.B.

Law would allow tree inventory, preservation of large trees


Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — An ordinance that would prevent clear-cutting in Old Bridge on the part of developers is being drafted by township officials, based on similar laws in effect in other towns in the area.

“I wanted to get this back before you because I think that it is, in the long run, important to the town,” Township Attorney Jerome Convery told Township Council members Monday night. He brought up the idea of such an ordinance at meetings earlier in the year.

The ordinance would allow for preservation of existing trees and prevention of clear-cutting by developers, Convery said.

Right now, he said, a developer can cut down all the trees on a building site with no repercussions.

“That doesn’t have to happen,” Convery said.

The burden for replacing trees cut down to allow for building would be placed on the developer. The ordinance would also allow for tree inventory and preservation of large trees.

“[With this ordinance] You can’t just cut a tree down,” said township Business Administrator Michael Jacobs.

The ordinance would put restrictions on the amount of trees allowed to be cut down, Convery said. It would also allow for the remaining trees to be inventoried. Any trees over the allowable 50 percent that a developer wished to cut down would come with a penalty, either in replacing the trees on site, replacing them on municipal land or placing money in a tree trust fund. Money from that fund would then be used for placement of trees on town property, such as in parks, he said.

“The incentive is there for [the developer] to leave those trees in place,” Convery explained.

The average resident would not be affected by this or be required to pay into the tree fund in order to build on personal property. A resident would not need a permit, Convery said, for taking down trees on less than an acre of land or removing less than five trees per year.

“We’re trying to balance the idea of saving trees against the idea of inconveniencing the individual homeowner,” he said.

If an individual wanted to remove additional trees, a permit would have to be issued, according to the proposed ordinance.

The basis for the ordinance is a similar law set in Monroe Township; East Brunswick and Jackson also have ordinances like it, he noted.

“Other towns are starting to do this because they want to prevent clear-cutting and they also want to collect money to put trees on municipal property,” Convery said.

He said he wanted to take time to perfect the ordinance before offering it to the council for a vote, specifically portions of it that deal with the appointment of a conservation officer and a proposed tree trust fund.

The trust fund, Jacobs said, would hold money provided by developers for tree replacement, should they cut trees down in the building process. If a tree is taken down and cannot be replaced onsite, he said, a tree must be planted elsewhere.

The position of conservation officer would be new, Convery said. The post would need to be filled by someone with an extensive working knowledge of trees. This tree expert would be paid out of the tree escrow fund itself, on an hourly rate, he said, similar to the system the township uses with land-use inspectors.

The position would not be full time, Convery said.

“I would propose that there be a limit to what can be paid for services [out of the tree escrow fund],” he said. “I’d be looking to craft something where only a certain percentage could be spent on professional fees. The bulk would have to go to trees.”

Monroe has close to $1 million in their tree planting fund, according to Convery, that the township has gained mostly from large developers.

Council members did raise concerns over exceptions within the ordinance in its current form for subdivisions, though largely the idea was well received.

“I think it’s an important ordinance,” Jacobs said.

The ordinance should be on a council agenda for first reading by May, he said.