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updated: 11/14/2012 10:59 PM

Elgin Council approves moratorium on cutting trees

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The City of Elgin is taking steps to catch up to its peers when it comes to regulating tree preservation.

City council members approved a three-month moratorium on tree removal Wednesday -- a time period that will allow for a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission and subsequent consideration of the proposed tree preservation ordinance by the council.

The moratorium is meant to prohibit property owners from cutting down trees in anticipation of the restrictions.

Council members also had a chance Wednesday to discuss the draft ordinance, which Corporation Counsel William Cogley said presents a balanced approach toward tree preservation.

"It balances property owner rights versus trying to maintain an urban forest and protect the valuable asset of trees in our community," Cogley said.

Councilman John Prigge expressed a firm opposition to the ordinance and the moratorium. He called the restrictions an intrusion onto people's private property and specifically opposed targeting the former Fox River Country Day School property, which is home to what may be the city's only oak savanna.

"To tell the people who are holding the notes on that property that they can't touch their property is absolutely incorrect," Prigge said.

The 62-acre campus near Route 25 and I-90 was put on the market after the administration announced the school's closing in June 2011. According to its property listing, the school filed for bankruptcy last November and is still for sale.

Councilwoman Anna Moeller said the fact that the school property is in the hands of people outside of Elgin who do not have a direct investment in the community shows why the tree preservation ordinance is needed.

"We're targeting protecting a natural resource here in the community that is threatened," Moeller said.

Prigge was the only council member to vote against the moratorium Wednesday, which means cutting trees is now illegal on certain properties. Single-family residential properties of less than 2 acres are exempt, as are commercial nurseries or orchards, properties on which development plans have already been approved, trees within public rights of way and properties owned by governmental entities.

Cogley said those exemptions, which are the same as those proposed in the tree preservation ordinance, cover about two-thirds of Elgin property and virtually all homeowners.

Other communities with tree preservation ordinances already in place include Arlington Heights, Naperville, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Crystal Lake, South Elgin, Streamwood, Bartlett, Geneva, St. Charles and Waukegan.

Elgin's proposed ordinance would require people to get a free permit before cutting down trees, submit a tree preservation plan and replace trees based on a formula specific to the type of tree being cut.

In response to Prigge's opposition, Mayor David Kaptain said it is a violation of common sense to allow a developer to come in and wipe out all the trees on a given property.

"That's part of what government does," Kaptain said. "It protects the rights of individuals, but it also has to protect the rights of the entire community."

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