Porter County will soon get new regulations on two planning matters, one
aimed at preserving native trees on large parcels and the other aimed at
protecting homeowners who move into new conservancy districts.
Both measures received unanimous first-reading approval this week by the
Porter County Commissioners and will be brought back for final adoption,
tentatively on June 16.
The new “tree preservation standards” call for new developments in the
unincorporated areas -- residential or commercial -- to prepare a tree
preservation plan. Any trees removed as part of the construction must be
replaced or offset by a deposit in a new county tree fund.
The new standards are limited, however.
Porter County Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said
counties cannot regulate the extraction of natural resources, such as trees
or minerals, on private property in defined rural areas.
Under Indiana code, that includes properties outside of municipalities in
areas where there are fewer than eight houses within a quarter square mile.
The new standards also do not apply to single-family residential units in
platted subdivisions or those that are five acres or less. Nor do the new
rules apply to small trees, defined as those with a diameter breast height (DBH)
of less than five inches, or trees that are non-native or prone to disease.
The new standards also don’t apply to subdivisions that are heavily
forested, since they might already be required by the county’s open space
ordinance to preserve at least 25 percent of the natural area. Further, the
new rules don’t apply to county drainage board projects or to tree
Other properties, though, are covered. These theoretically would be new
residential or commercial developments, as well as individual houses on more
than five acres, in areas where there are already nearby houses.
Speaking from the audience, Porter County Council member Sylvia Graham asked
if the new standards would prevent property owners like herself who need to
remove trees due to disease or threats to structures. Thompson said the
county cannot regulate trees in those cases.
In the cases where the new standards would apply, the developer or property
owner would be required to submit a tree preservation plan with their
development plan or subdivision application. The plan would include a tree
survey and an inventory of the native tree species. The plan would also
identify the number of trees to be removed and what’s to be planted after
the site is developed.
Trees damaged during construction must be replaced or, if the site cannot
handle all the replacement trees, payments are to be made to the new tree
fund. The replacement schedule calls for a 1:1 replacement of trees up to 16
inches DBH and up to a 4-to-1 replacement for trees at least 30 inches DBH.
Those who opt to pay into the tree fund instead of planting trees would pay
$200 per tree.
The tree fund will be used for new tree plantings primarily in public
spaces. Developers who plant replacement trees could be eligible for up to
$100 annually in reimbursement from the tree fund.
The standards include a long list of deciduous, coniferous, and ornamental
trees that are native and deemed worthy of protection and replacement. They
include sugar maple, honey locust, tulip, bur oak, and hemlock.
The standards also list non-native, invasive or disease-prone species that
can be removed at the discretion of the owner. These include black locust,
cottonwood, silver maple, and willow.
In cases in which the trees have been harvested commercially and then the
owner seeks to develop the property within five years, the replacement plan
outlined in the new standards would apply.
The new tree standards have been under discussion since last year and were
modeled in part by the city of Valparaiso’s tree ordinance.
At a recent Porter County Plan Commission meeting, residents of the
Timberland subdivision in Liberty Township said they were not aware when
they bought their homes that they were moving into a conservancy district
that had the power to impose a tax on their property tax bills.
That lack of awareness is at the root of new disclosure rules approved this
week by the commissioners.
The new rules call on conservancy districts to disclose bonding and
budgeting information and confirm that the utility will have the capacity to
serve the homeowners in proposed new subdivisions. New homeowners are to be
made aware that their conservancy district has the power to tax and are to
be kept informed about conservancy district board meetings.
County Commissioner President Robert Harper said he believes the disclosure
rules are the first of their kind in Indiana.
Harper cited the complaints that the plan commission has received from
unaware homeowners moving into conservancy districts. “I don’t want to see
that happen again,” he said.
North Porter County Commissioner John Evans noted that there are a number of
truth in lending rules when people buy homes, and said that there needs to
be assurances at the time of a closing that the homeowners understand that
they are buying in a conservancy district.
A question was raised as to whether the proposed ordinance adequately
protects homeowners moving into established subdivisions, not just proposed
subdivisions. The commissioners agreed to review if changes are needed
before final adoption.