Tree Protection



Tree Protection

The Tree Protection Ordinance establishes a new vision statement that calls for protection of the Town's tree canopy cover.   The ordinance  is linked to a Town-wide commitment to sustainability with the potential to reduce carbon emissions and decrease the urban “heat-island” effect.


On December 6, 2010, the Town Council adopted a Tree Protection Ordinance that identified tree canopy as a resource to be considered during development applications in Chapel Hill. The update establishes a new vision statement that calls for a balanced approach to protecting trees without overegulation of residential properties and property owners.

The ordinance will go into effect on March 1, 2011.

The staff developed two support documents to assist with measuring and calculating tree canopy:


Answers to some common questions

How will the changes impact single-family or two-family homeowners?

The threshold for applying tree protection requirements is returning to the earlier standard of 5,000 SF of land disturbance.  The proposed tree canopy coverage standards would be applied only to the largest projects requiring Council approval, including Special Use Permit applications.


What will the proposed changes cost?

We anticipate only a minor increase in the time spent reviewing the largest projects.  The Town does not expect to need additional staff to implement the proposed ordinance.


Will the proposed ordinance allow for solar systems to generate heat and water?  What about stormwater systems?

Yes.  Section 5.7.2 (b) of the revised Ordinance includes a list of reasons why applicants would be expected to request modifications to the tree canopy coverage requirements.  This was done specifically to provide assurance to property owners that the staff will support certain modifications that support other goals of the Town.  This list specifically includes solar access, daylighting and stormwater management improvements, including compliance with the Jordan Lake Rules.


Will the proposed ordinance reduce the area available for recreation by prohibiting open active recreation areas?

No.  Section 5.7.2 (c) 1 includes a list of land uses and easements that are anticipated to be cleared and therefore should not be included in determining the land area subject to the tree canopy coverage standards on a specific parcel.  This list specifically includes active recreation areas.

Are projects in the Town Center exempt from these requirements?

Yes.  Section 5.7.1 (d) 1 states that properties in the Town Center are exempt from the provisions of the Ordinance.


Is the proposed Ordinance in conflict with the parking requirements for many building types?

No.  Parking lots that are designed to meet the Town's parking lot shading requirements generally include perimeter and median tree plantings that also can be counted to meet the tree canopy coverage requirements.


Background Materials

  • Revisions for Public Review (November Draft Ordinance - note, an updated version of the language and a supporting staff memorandum was included in the December 6th Council agenda materials)

If you have comments, please send them to or call the Planning Department at (919) 968-2728.


Summary of changes from 9/27/2010

  • Eliminate "recommended" standards; only identify requirements in the ordinance.
  • Simplify the canopy protection standards to apply by land-use; eliminate references to zoning classifications which can be confusing.
  • Relocate fees to a separate fee schedule.
  • Draft a diagram illustrating how canopy can be calculated.
  • Refine definitions (e.g. Tree Canopy) for clarity.
  • Remove reference to 36" trees.
  • Clarify that replanting is a priority over mitigation payments-in-lieu.
  • Clarify how information is submitted (landscape protection plan references).


The revised ordinance continues to focus the canopy protection standards on the projects with the largest potential impact in Chapel Hill, such as Special Use Permits and other projects requiring Council approval.  The anticipated increase in reviews is not expected to add significant time to project reviews or to require additional staff resources.



Background Meetings and Materials

September 27, 2010

The Council continued the public hearing from September 27, 2010 and requested additional revisions from staff.

June 15, 2010

The Planning Board recommended the updated ordinance (above) based on the suggested changes they discussed at that meeting .

May 18, 2010

The Planning Board  reviewed a revised draft ordinance and summary of the recommended changes at their meeting on  at 7:00 PM at Town Hall

The board discussed the following:

  • The revised standard that does not require permits for disturbance under 5,000 SF
  • Clarifications to the proposed canopy coverage standards table and whether other uses need to be identified in the chart
  • The voluntary tree protection standard
  • The proposed change to significant tree stands
  • Standards for removal of trees 36" or greater
  • Other exceptions (e.g. too close to a house) that might be made

They asked staff to be available to answer questions before the June 15th meeting, to make that a productive conversation.  The Board expressed a desire to act on the ordinance in a timely fashion to allow the public hearing to continue as currently scheduled.

March 16, 2010

The Planning Board   reviewed the comments from the Public Hearing 

April 20,2010

         The Planning Board discussed potential updates to the ordinance.

February 22, 2010:

Town Council Meeting

Email comments on the 2/22/10 draft

February 2, 2010:

         Planning Board draft ordinance

January 19, 2010:

Second Public Information Session to review updates to the Tree Protection Ordinance draft language:

The draft language includes suggested changes, based on the public input received to date. 

January 5, 2010
         Changes were discussed in an update to the Planning Board on January 5, 2010.

October 26, 2009

      First Public Information Session:


Past Agenda Items

Current Tree Protection Ordinance

Contact Us

Information: or (919) 968-2728

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