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Portland City Council adopts updates to city’s tree code, strengthening tree preservation

News article

A new ordinance updates the city’s tree policies to promote greater preservation of trees when development occurs in certain types of commercial zones and to promote the preservation of larger trees in other development situations.

Published

On Nov. 12, the Portland City Council adopted an ordinance that updates the city’s tree policies to promote greater preservation of trees when development occurs in certain types of commercial, employment and industrial areas, and to further incentivize preservation of larger trees in other development situations.

The ordinance:

  • Removes current exemptions from tree preservation and tree density requirements on private and City-owned or managed property in IG1 (General Industrial 1), EX (Central Employment), and CX (Central Commercial) zones
  • Removes the existing exemption from tree preservation and tree density requirements on city-owned and managed property in IH (Heavy Industrial) zones
  • Keeps the existing exemption from tree preservation and tree density requirements for private trees in IH (Heavy Industrial) zones
  • Reduces the threshold for required preservation of private trees from 36 inches to 20 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) wherever tree preservation is required 
  • Reduces the threshold for the application of an inch-per-inch fee in lieu of preservation for private trees from 36 inches dbh to 20 inches dbh
  • Sets partial expectations for the upcoming Economic Opportunities Analysis (EOA) to be undertaken by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
  • Directs Portland Parks and Recreation to bring a scope of work for future updates to the city’s tree code (Title 11 of Portland City Code) to City Council by March 31, 2021, and directs the City Council to consider funding for that work during the fiscal year 2021-22 City budget process.

The ordinance was the outcome of several months of work by city staff and community members.

Last January, following recommendations from the Urban Forestry Commission and the Planning and Sustainability Commission, the City Council directed staff at the Bureau of Development Services, together with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Portland Parks and Recreation, to develop a proposal that addressed existing exemptions from tree preservation requirements in development situations in the aforementioned zones. The City Council also directed staff to address the size threshold for private tree removal at which higher fees may be assessed to incentivize a tree’s preservation.

Since January city staff engaged with various stakeholders who commented on the city’s tree code over the past five years and conducted online surveys and public forums to enlist the views and comments of the public. Analyses of the economic impacts and the impacts on the city’s tree canopy of changing the tree preservation and planting requirements were also conducted.

The Urban Forestry Commission and Planning and Sustainability Commission met in August and September to review the initial staff proposal, receive testimony and provide recommendations to the City Council:

  • Both commissions recommended reducing the threshold for preservation of larger trees on private property from 36 inches to 20 inches in diameter. Trees of this size threshold or greater are required to be preserved. If they are not preserved, a higher fee-in-lieu of preservation, based on an inch-per-inch calculation, is required.
  • Both commissions recommended removing exemptions for tree preservation and tree density for private trees, and trees on City-owned or managed property in the General Industrial 1 (IG1), Central Employment (EX), and Central Commercial (CX) zones.

The Urban Forestry Commission also recommended removing exemptions for tree preservation and tree density for private trees, and trees on City-owned or managed property in the Heavy Industrial (IH), while the Planning and Sustainability Commission recommended keeping those exemptions in the Heavy Industrial (IH zone).

At a public hearing on Oct. 29, city staff, the chairs of the Urban Forestry Commission and Planning and Sustainability Commission, and more than a dozen Portland residents and advocates testified on the proposal before the City Council. In its final decision on Nov. 12, the City Council adopted the ordinance described above.

The ordinance takes effect Dec. 12.