Impending construction targets tree ordinance

By M. Robert Berg

The impending construction of a department store on wooded property in DeKalb has prompted environmentalists to try and save the targeted trees.

At last week’s city council meeting, a zoning change was approved that allowed Dial Realty, of Omaha, Neb., to go ahead on a project to build a Target store on a 31-acre site on Route 23. The property, known as Rhode’s Farm, is bordered on the north by Oakland Drive and the south by Barber Greene Road.

The change was approved, even though there is an ordinance in DeKalb concerning tree preservation. A staff report submitted to the DeKalb Planning Commission by Mark Biernacki, planning and development director, outlined the tree situation.

“It is estimated that approximately two-thirds of this 31-acre tract is covered with a variety of mature quality trees,” the report stated. “The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) requires the preservation of such trees or their replacement according to prescribed ratios as part of the development process. The applicants (Dial Realty) are requesting a waiver from this requirement.”

Sally Valette, chair of the Citizen’s Environmental Commission, spoke at a public hearing on the matter Sept. 15. She said as far as the tree preservation waiver, she is not opposed to development. “However, I would not like to see the entire ordinance waived,” Valette said.

Valette suggested a tree survey be done, and trees from the property could be transplanted throughout the city.

At the city council meeting Oct. 11, City Manager Bill Nicklas addressed tree loss and tree relocation.

“We’re looking for a minimum tree loss in this,” he said. “(As far as the grading of the site), the only accepted grading will be the grading necessary to move dirt. Only the most narrow area that could be scraped and graded without destroying trees (will be accepted).”

Nicklas said there is a condition involving the saving of some trees. “In exchange for the waiver of tree preservation, (the developer will give) the park district access to the property to go in and replant any trees they want,” he said. “Also, the market value of the timber removed will be donated to the Forest Preserve district to make a woodlot somewhere else in the city or county.”

The value of the timber is not too much, though, according to a state forester. “The state forester said the timber on the site is only worth about $5,000,” Nicklas said.

Valette also mentioned two huge white oak trees on the property that are a couple of hundred years old, and suggested it would be good public relations for the company to save the trees, because the white oak is the state tree.

Dial Realty responded to this in a letter to Biernacki. “Before a decision on the white oaks can be made, we will need a surveyor to stake and survey their exact locations in relation to the existing parking lot design and visibility of the store fronts to Highway 23,” wrote Robert Welstead and David Smith, representatives of Dial.

According to the staff report, the DeKalb Planning and Development department sees the waiver as important to making the site a profitable venture.

“One could argue that this site could be developed with a much smaller project resulting in little or no loss of trees,” the report stated. “Taking this position would certainly underutilize this site’s development potential at the expense of saving trees, a position staff feels was certainly not the intent of the tree preservation requirement when it was adopted.”