Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that the first reading of this ordinance would be at the May 23 meeting and the second would be in June. However, at its meeting on March 14, Township Council approved the ordinance on first reading in title only with a second reading and public hearing anticipated in April. Now the second reading will be at the May 23 meeting with a final vote and public hearing. Read more at the Township website.

Cherry Hill Township plans to more closely regulate tree removal and also require that replacement trees are planted, according to a proposed law intended to preserve vegetation in town.

A Cherry Hill Tree Fund also would be established to pay for new trees to be planted on municipal property or on private land, when the owner agrees.

Property owners with municipal permission to remove trees would pay into the fund — residential cost of $175 per tree and commercial cost of $300 each — if they do not plan to replace the trees on their property.

Anyone in Cherry Hill who removes trees larger than five inches in diameter without municipal permission could be fined for each tree cut down under the draft of the new law, unveiled Monday night by Township Council. If convicted, they also would be required to pay into the Tree Fund for each tree.

The new law comes as many Cherry Hill residents have voiced concern over the removal of trees along Route 70 and in some new residential developments. 

Some protested earlier this year when Public Service Electric and Gas Co. applied to build an electrical substation on the Congregation M'kor Shalom property on Evesham Road with a plan that called for the removal of 591 trees. PSE&G's plan was approved by the Cherry Hill Zoning Board of Adjustment on March 17.

"We will do everything possible to protect the trees that we have," Mayor Susan Shin Angulo said at the Council meeting. "We also must ensure that when the trees are lost, they need to be replaced so that generations that follow benefit."

Council President David Fleisher said that "the objective is for there to be a tree ordinance which is tough but fair." 

The second reading of the tree ordinance is scheduled at the Council's next meeting, on May 23, with a public hearing and final Council vote. 

Download a copy of the proposed tree ordinance.

Community activist Martha Wright, of Munn Lane, has been one of the residents pushing for stricter tree-removal rules. During public comment Monday night, Wright credited Council for the draft ordinance and called the proposed law "very robust."

» READ MORE: Denuding Cherry Hill: Community alarmed, urges action, over number of trees falling to development.

Under the law, a person convicted of illegally removing trees could be fined a minimum of $100 and maximum of $1,250 for each tree removed without a permit. In addition to the fine, the person would be required to pay $300 to the Tree Fund for each tree that was removed.

"The indiscriminate, uncontrolled, and excess destruction, removal, and cutting of trees upon lots and tracts of land within the Township may result in increased municipal costs to control drainage, increased soil erosion and sedimentation, decreased fertility of the soil, decreased local groundwater recharge, increased seasonal temperatures, decreased air quality, increased dust, loss of wildlife habitat, and change in visual character," the draft ordinance notes.

If someone wants to destroy, cut, remove or trim more than 30% of any tree five inches or more in diameter at breast height they would need to apply for a permit from the Department of Public Works. The law would apply whether the tree is deemed healthy, in poor condition or dead.

The application fees are $25 for residences and $100 for commercial properties.

A maximum of three trees may be removed from a residential property within a 12-month period, according to the law. When more than three are proposed, the residential property owner must file a Tree Replacement Plan. Additional trees may be removed if the DPW determines they are dead.

A Tree Replacement Plan must be filed for the proposed removal of any trees on commercial properties.

The law does not cover trees within a 15-foot perimeter of a new building, structure, driveway, sidewalk, recreation area, and/or utilities approved by Township planning or zoning.

The current tree ordinance would be repealed and replaced by the new ordinance, according to a briefing for Council by Community Development Director Cosmas P. Diamantis

"The property owner is not only liable, but also tenants, business owners and a contractor who removes trees from properties without following the proper procedure," Diamantis told Council.

He said contractors hired to remove trees are stakeholders in making sure they are removed properly.

In December 2020, Cooper University Health Care promised the Planning Board that two large trees on South Union Avenue would not be removed when it expanded the parking for its Route 70 facility.

But the trees were cut down.

Natalie Shafiroff, the Township's former community development supervisor, said at a later board meeting that Cooper did not update its demolition plan after the December meeting and the demolition company, in addition to tearing down a house on South Union Avenue, removed the two trees.

However, the law would have no teeth when trees are being removed by government entities, such as state or county departments of transportation.

A government agency is encouraged to submit its "tree removal/trimming plan to the Township and consult with its designated officials to limit tree removal to the greatest extent possible," according to the draft ordinance.

Money in the Cherry Hill Tree Fund can be used only for tree-related expenses, according to the proposed law.

The Tree Fund is to be separate from other municipal funds and "shall be used exclusively for the administration and execution of tree planting projects including, but not limited to, purchasing and planting trees on property within the Township, maintaining trees on public property within the Township, and/or treating or removing trees on public property deemed hazardous, dead, and/or in poor condition" by the DPW, according to the draft ordinance.