Does Black Mountain have a tree ordinance? Town staff, Arbor Day Foundation weighs in

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain's tree ordinance covers all public areas but does not extend to private property.

With trees starting to green up around the time of Earth Day, some community members have been wondering if there is a tree ordinance in Black Mountain.

According to town staff, there is in fact an ordinance. 

"The tree ordinance that we have in place is only applicable, really essential, to public property," said Josh Harrold, town manager. "So it has nothing to do with private property."

More:Tree removal and development spark controversy in Black Mountain neighborhood

Though the written ordinance does not accurately reflect the current purposes and uses, it states that the town has the right to maintain, oversee and remove all trees on public property. It also includes definitions and practices for removal as well as permitting information.

Much of the ordinance discusses the Urban Forestry Commission which was decommissioned in 2020.

The Urban Forestry Commission was decommissioned in 2020 after town staff took over its duties.

Black Mountain is a designated Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, recognition the town applies for annually. Among other things, a prerequisite for the designation is the requirement of a tree ordinance.

In 2020, the tree ordinance underwent changes that have yet to be updated in writing, according to Harrold. One major change was the decommission of the Urban Forestry Commission.

"We had a hard time keeping membership, we had a hard time having quorum for people to be on that board," Harrold said. 

Under the ordinance, the commission was responsible for applying for the Tree City USA designation as well as putting together the Arbor Day proclamation and celebration. Town staff say the commission never completed these tasks.

For the most recent Arbor Day celebration, town staff oversaw and conducted the celebration.

"We've always been heavily involved in that type of stuff because the commission doesn't really have the ability to do that," Harrold said.

More:Black Mountain Arbor Day celebration includes tree planted through Clean Air Project

Alana Tucker, program manager for Tree City Programs, said the town's ordinance may  not fully qualify for what is necessary to apply to be a Tree City USA. However, due to the existing ordinance's establishment in 2019, the program will continue to grandfather Black Mountain in until 2025.

In 2025, if the ordinance does not fully qualify, Tucker said the town will need to update it to continue to be eligible as a Tree City. 

"Town Council and our citizens are proud that Black Mountain is a Tree City," Mayor Larry Harris said via email. "Development is important for housing and our economy, and we need to find ways to move forward in our planning ordinances to balance the issues and conflicting interests."

The most recent Arbor Day celebration was conducted by the town staff and included the planting of trees by Lake Tomahawk.

Though slightly outdated, the current ordinance does discuss maintenance and upkeep of public trees but remains limited in discussion of development. It does mention permitting for town residents who wish to prune, treat or remove public trees but does not address private trees.

With the loss of the Urban Forestry Commission, certain tasks were never completed. For instance, Harrold said the town has never taken a tree inventory, a job the commission was tasked with completing.

The current Black Mountain tree ordinance which can be found on the town website, requires "clean up" to accurately depict its purpose and use, according to Harrold.

"Trees and their protection via town ordinances (remains) a challenging topic but one we need to examine, discuss and determine what the options might be," Harris wrote. 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.