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Landowner claims tree mitigation hurting his investment; seeks waiver

It’s mostly developers who generally take on the cost of having to remove and mitigate trees from large parcels of land before building homes or shopping centers.

However, Oxford resident Don Waller told the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that the city’s laws on tree mitigation in the Oxford Tree Ordinance are hurting his investment and asked them to waive the regulations and allow him to clear cut 19 acres.

Waller purchased the 19 acres behind his Waller Funeral Home years ago as an investment and as a way to keep unwanted development happening in the funeral home’s back yard. Now 84 years old, he’s decided to “tie some things up,” to look into selling the property.

“People look at the land and say it’s going to be a big expense to mitigate all those trees,” Waller said.

According to city code, on sites greater than 5 acres replacement of heritage trees is done at a rate of one, 2-inch caliper tree per two inches of trees removed. Those developments that aren’t large enough to replant on site, can pay into the city’s Tree Escrow Account, which is used to plant trees in other parts of the city. The amount paid is based on the fair market value of materials and labor at the time of planting.

City Attorney Pope Mallette told the board that they could not legally make a decision to ignore city ordinances for one individual; however, there is a process in place where a developer interested in buying Waller’s property can present a site plan to the city and ask for a variance through the Oxford Planning Commission, having the sale contingent on the variance approval.

There is also a provision that allows landowners to clear the land to sell timber, but then they couldn’t develop it for three years.

The board recommended Waller meet with the Planning Department to review his options allowed under city code.

Landscape Ordinance

Just before Waller addressed the board, the aldermen heard the second reading of proposed changes to the city’s Landscaping Ordinance; however, it turned into a first reading when City Planner Judy Daniel presented an additional change.

The proposed change would put into law what is currently an informal city policy, where tree surveys on property larger than 10 acres are done by surveying a small portion of the land and then using that as a multiplier. Currently, the developer takes aerial photos of the property and works with the Oxford Tree Board to determine which area of the property should be surveyed.

A recommended change in the policy is to have that decision made by the city planner’s office instead.

“It should be a city official directing those decisions rather than an appointed board,” Daniel said.

No one spoke during the public hearing on the proposed Landscaping Ordinance changes. Another public hearing will be held in two weeks where the aldermen will vote on all the presented ordinance amendments.

The city’s Tree Ordinance and Landscaping Ordinance are available to review online at www.oxfordms.net or by calling the planning department at 662-232-2305.