What’s the Issue?
Trees are a significant component of our urban environment. Rehoboth Beach is unique among all of the East Coast resorts due to its abundance of trees that reach almost to the ocean. The City has been designated a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation for the past 25 years.
Yet, the City has lost a significant number of trees, many due to residential and commercial construction. In many cases, it has proven to be easier to cut down a mature healthy tree than to modify building plans or alter construction techniques to protect tree roots. As our land values have increased, small older homes are being demolished and new larger homes built in their place. Some have added swimming pools, taking away even more ground where trees could be planted.
A tree ordinance adopted in 2006 requires a minimum of three trees on a standard 50 x 100 lot. But, because new houses have been built to the maximum allowed by code, small ornamental trees are often planted. These types of trees do not contribute the City’s tree canopy, the most distinguishing characteristic of our skyline. If no trees over 15-30 feet are planted, the eventual effect could be to reduce our visual tree skyline by half or more, with no trees higher than houses.
Following a detailed study of the goals, realities and opportunities for maintaining and increasing the tree canopy in Rehoboth Beach, the Planning Commission recommended that the City initiate a special effort to increase the number of trees on both private and public property. Changes to the zoning code, adopted last year, should provide more natural area on which to plant trees on private property, with a goal to have “the right tree in the right place,” rather than a specific number of trees. For trees on public property, the goal to increase the City’s tree canopy is heavily dependent on the City planting and maintaining street trees.
The Mayor and Commissioners are set to take up the matter at a special workshop on Monday, July 18, 2016.
What’s at Stake?
Our economy, our environment, and public health are all at stake. The overall value of our community is heavily dependent on its trees. Here are just a few reasons why:
- Trees yield 3-5 times their cost in overall benefits to the City.
- Trees act as a natural air conditioner, producing cooling effects, lowering energy costs. Trees cut energy consumption by up to 25%,
- Trees reduce storm water runoff and flooding, and they decrease flow of polluted water into our lakes and the ocean.
- Studies show that people who live in communities with trees have greater levels of physical activity than those who don't.
- Trees improve respiratory health, lower blood pressure and stress. They protect us from harmful UV rays, and enable us to have clean air and clean water.
- Trees provide habitat for numerous bird species.
- Trees boost property values by 7-20%.
- High canopy trees so close to the ocean are iconic to Rehoboth Beach; the value they bring to the community cannot be overstated.
- Unlike other infrastructure components, the tree population, when properly cared for, will actually increase in value as the trees mature over time.