Trees and Infill

The current character of Portland’s neighborhoods is very much tied to our abundant trees. However, Portland hasn’t always been so tree friendly. In fact our nickname Stumptown originates from the 19th century when growth was so rapid that there were “more stumps than trees.” Since that time, Portland has grown a large urban tree canopy which provides us numerous benefits including cleaner water, healthier air, reduced erosion, and wildlife habitat. Because of all the services trees provide to Portland’s communities, the city regulates some of the things that we do to trees.

In 2011, the Portland City Council adopted the Citywide Tree Project ordinance package, which includes implementation of a new Title 11 and consolidates the city’s current patchwork of rules relating to trees. The implementation has been delayed due to budgetary constraints, but is likely to be fully funded this year, and will take effect in 2014

The increase in new development in Portland has brought new attention to Portland’s tree regulations. The table below provides some details about the current regulations. It is important to note that Portland’s tree regulations don’t always protect valuable neighborhood trees, especially when a property is being developed. The Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association learned this recently when a large, old paradox walnut tree was slated for destruction to make room for a 14 unit housing complex. However, by calling attention to the age, beauty, and irreplaceable ecosystem services provided by the tree, the neighbors were able to convince the developer to remove two units from his plan to make space for the tree and to nominate the tree for heritage status.

SituationCurrent Regulation
Street trees (planted in the area between the sidewalk and the steet).Before planting a tree on the city right-of-way, you need to obtain a free planting permit, which includes a free on-site inspection from an Urban Forestry Tree Inspector. You also need a permit for altering a sidewalk or for pruning the tree. (Some pruning permits can be self-issued online.)  Removal of a street tree also requires a permit; street trees can only be removed if they are dead, dying or dangerous. More information and permit applications can be found at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/38294
Trees on private propertyOn some properties, you need a permit from Urban Forestry in order to remove trees. Contact BDS at 503-823-7526 or Urban Forestry at 503-823-4489 to determine which requirements apply to your site.
Development situationsWhen redevelopment is taking place, trees are addressed under the zoning code (Title 33) rather than the parks code (Title 20). Tree preservation requirements in the zoning code apply only when a land division is taking place or the property is in an environmental zone. In those cases, the code requires that a certain percentage of the trees be preserved. Property owners can also request to use a mitigation plan instead, if they can demonstrate that the development plan preserves as many trees as possible and that it is not possible to preserve trees given the allowable development on the site. Mitigation can include planting new trees, using porous paving, or other activities.
Heritage TreesIf you have a tree on your property that is very large, old, or unusual, you can also nominate it for designation as a Heritage Tree. Heritage Trees, once designated, cannot be pruned or removed without permission from the Urban Forestry Commission.

Trees are a valuable part of our city environment, and you don’t even have to hug one to show your appreciation. If you’d like to get involved in your community’s work around trees, there are plenty of opportunities in your neighborhood to help out with projects like Tree Inventories, developing a Neighborhood Tree Plan, planting new trees, or harvesting fruit from neighborhood trees to donate. We live in a great place, and our trees are part of that.

By: Sara Wright
Temporary Neighborhood Planning Program Manager