March 30, 2023

How Do Trees Affect Land Development?

When considering property for land development and construction, trees are an important consideration that can easily be overlooked. From regulations to budget constraints, we’ll discuss how JBPro strikes a balance between preserving the natural landscape and creating a functional design that meets our clients’ needs. Join us as we delve into the arboreal considerations of land development.

How We Handle Trees on a Survey

Objective Considerations

Whether or not an existing tree is kept is decided early on in the design phase. When a survey is delivered to our engineering design team, we take a look at existing conditions and determine how natural elements should be incorporated into our design.

Some tree decisions are necessitated based on design parameters. For example, trees and large vegetation have to be removed from stormwater basins no matter what.

Legal considerations can dictate decision-making as well. It may be deemed a ‘dangerous tree,’ meaning it presents a danger to people or the property due to disease or damage. Civil engineers are required by law in most jurisdictions to consult with a landscape architect, environmental professional, or arborist to determine the health and safety of a tree.

Additionally, there are protections in place for vegetation that are regulated due to their significant value in a local ecosystem, similar to that of protected animal species. An example we see commonly in North Florida is the protection of Live Oaks, which are considered a heritage by many jurisdictions such as Alachua County. If a property in these jurisdictions contains a Live Oak of sufficient size, its removal could require mitigation fees and/or replacement.

Because of these mitigation fees and replacement costs, budgetary concerns can affect the status of a healthy tree as well. Seemingly small decisions in the early stages of a project can determine whether or not a development stays on budget. Tree removal costs can significantly impact a developer’s bottom line due to a simple fact: the bigger the tree, the more it costs to remove. 

However, keeping a tree isn’t always the cheapest option in the long run as it may lead to higher landscaping costs after the project is completed. It’s important to work with a consultant who understands how trees and landscape architecture will affect your budget in both the short term and the long term.

Subjective Considerations

Even if local regulations do not explicitly protect a tree based on its species and size, county staff has the opportunity to designate any onsite tree as ‘a good tree’ that must be protected. While engineering and environmental consultants can weigh in on these decisions, the final judgment lies with government officials. Keep in mind that many public employees are told that “all efforts should be made to retain regulated trees.” 

Sometimes our clients find themselves particularly inspired by naturally occurring vegetation. Many of our single-family development projects are designed almost entirely around protected trees on the property.

One such project, Oak Park in Newberry, FL, is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful oak trees in the surrounding area. We were thrilled when the client told us that keeping the trees was of the utmost importance. The neighborhood’s design works in harmony with the trees to create beautiful canopies and landscapes for a thriving community.

When JBPro considers the value of preserving trees, we envision ourselves living and interacting with the final development. Questions we ask ourselves might include: 

By considering the answers to these questions, we are able to design projects that are in line with our client’s vision and more enjoyable for the community at large.

Construction Considerations

Before construction kicks off, there are a few last arboreal items that must be considered. 

Tree barricades are placed around the perimeter of trees to protect their root systems. By using plastic barriers, the trees are protected from root damage and the everyday dangers of a construction site. 

Every tree species has different spatial requirements depending on its root structure. For example, Live Oaks have a root system that mirrors its exact drip line. Barricades must be placed prior to construction and some jurisdictions even require them to be up before they’ll issue a permit for construction.

Closing Out Trees

Trees are a crucial component of any land development project and must be taken into consideration from day one. When engineers do their due diligence and consider the objective and subjective factors affecting tree protection on a project site, they can significantly impact your development budget. If you’re considering a tree-heavy property for land development, work with the consultants who have your end goals in mind from the start. JBPro’s team of experienced civil engineers will ensure your project will grow into a success!