Are you looking at a townhouse development site but have concerns around trees and the potential impact they might have on your development project?

Well, stick around because, in this article, I will share everything you need to know when considering trees on development sites.

Let’s get into it.

Whether you have the site you will develop or are undertaking due diligence on a townhouse site you are considering developing. Understanding the impact trees can have on your project’s overall outcome will be critical.

Trees on development sites are without a doubt one of those property development risks that continue to trip up beginner or first-time developers.

As we make our way through the article, I’m going to break down everything that you need to know. We will discuss the trees on your site, on your neighbours and council trees. All can impact your project negatively if you aren’t careful.

Depending on where a tree sits will determine how much control you as the property developer have over any decision-making around it.

Trees on your land you will have the most control over. And trees on your neighbours land you will have less power. And with council trees, your control sits somewhere in the middle.

All of which you need to be aware of from the outset.

Let’s break down the situation for each scenario individually.

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Your Trees

Firstly, let’s look at your trees, so the trees sitting on your land.

tree plan

Understanding the trees on your site is essential. Doing it properly will require both time and effort to figure out what impact they may have on your design.

If you plan on removing any trees, you will need to ensure that it will be possible, and if the plan is to retain certain trees, you’ll need to understand how close you can build to them.

In saying all this, if your site doesn’t have any vegetation overlays and you don’t have any significant trees say over 10m high on your site, you should be able to remove all your trees.

But be mindful what trees are considered “significant” will vary between councils.

If you do have any trees you think maybe considered significant that you need to remove, the best thing to do is to reach out to the council to see if a permit is required.

Your Neighbours Trees

It’s not uncommon for beginner developers to assume that they don’t need to worry about trees not directly on their site. This is not the case.

If you have a neighbour’s tree near your site, they can be super problematic. For starters, you can’t remove a tree that isn’t yours.

But also, even though the neighbour’s tree may not be directly on your site, all trees have what is referred to as a structural root zone and a tree protection zone that could spill onto your property.

There are restrictions around building in these zones as it may affect the health of the trees.

This is where an arborist will carry out a report to assess where these zones are and exactly how big they are so we can work around them.

tree assessment data

If you miss a neighbour’s tree, hopefully, you are starting to see how one small mistake like this has the potential to have a significant impact on what you are looking to achieve.

The Council Trees

These can be tricky and largely depend on your specific council and how motivated they are to minimise tree removal.

For the most part. Council trees only become a problem if you are looking to add cross over to the site.

There are many factors the council considers when deciding if a council tree can be removed, but the main factor they will consider is how mature the tree is and how it’s adding to the streetscape.

Usually, if it is small, then the council will allow it to be removed under the condition there will be a replacement, all of which is at the developer’s cost.

It is no secret that dealing with trees can be frustrating and challenging at the best of times. Especially when you are working across the different councils and working with various arborists, there are many variables and not always a lot of consistency.

In a lot of cases, it isn’t black and white. Many scenarios and decisions require discretion from the arborist and the council authorities, which can be tricky to navigate.

So being knowledgeable and skilled in this area as a developer will give you a significant advantage.

It will position you best for successful outcomes, which is what it is all about.

Alright, now let’s look at six other things you need to be aware of or consider when undertaking due diligence around trees as a townhouse property developer.

1. Root Investigation

This is where a professional will use a non-invasive or destructive digging method to identify where the roots are, how big they are and ultimately what impact the development will have on the tree’s wellbeing.

This is often required when the proposed design is going to encroach on the trees SRZ (Structural Root Zone)

 2. Structural Root Zone (SRZ)

This is the area or radius around a tree trunk that must be protected to ensure the tree’s stability in the ground.

If larger roots within this area are damaged, the tree’s structure will likely be compromised, possibly causing whole tree failure.

tree protection zone

3. Tree Protection Zone (TPZ)

This is a calculated area above and below the ground at a given distance from the trunk to protect the tree’s roots and canopy during construction.

The Tree Protection Zone is determined by the diameter of the tree at breast height.

4. Keeping Trees vs Removing

There is no doubt that a developer’s life will be much easier if you could clear the site of all the trees and start fresh.

But at times, there is real value in retaining certain trees. It will depend on their species, their health, their size and probably most importantly, their location. As far as if it can work with your design.

In some cases, strategically retaining trees on a site will result in a superior finished product. There is no doubt that the right trees kept in the right places can add value to a property.

5. Vegetation Overlays

vegetation overlays

Local Councils and State Governments have the authority to protect important vegetation. They do this through what is referred to as a Vegetation Protection Order (VPO) under local laws.

These laws protect vegetation and deliver a balance between protecting the city’s environment, people, property, lifestyle, and wildlife.

6. Landscape Overlays

landscape overlay

The Significant Landscape Overlay (SLO) is used to determine landscapes of significance at the municipal level. And conserve and control the kind of development that occurs within those landscapes.

Landscapes may be deemed significant for a combination of historical, aesthetic, scientific, religious and social reasons. Where the vegetation is considered as integral to the amenity of the area.

As you can see, there are numerous moving parts when it comes to dealing with trees on these residential townhouse builds. It is important not to get overwhelmed, as the old saying goes: how do you eat an elephant?

The answer is simple, one bite at a time. So, when looking at trees on development sites, the key is to work through them one tree at a time.

If you take the time to gain the knowledge required to make decisions around trees with confidence. I guarantee it will give you a significant competitive advantage over your competitors.

In a nutshell, you’ll make more money.

I can’t tell you how many excellent sites we at Little Fish have picked up without competition. And for what we would consider under its actual value.

Sites with trees by default scare the average property developer off, not us.

We see this as a competitive advantage that has been good to us on countless occasions over our journey.

Wrapping Up

The moral of this article is don’t fear trees on development sites.

Double down and learn everything you can so you can get the confidence you need to make decisions and move with certainty.

And as always if you need some help don’t hesitate on reaching out to our expert team. We can help advise with simpler things like car tuning requirements right through to an end to end management service.

Our property development consultants and development project managers are ready to rock and roll. We would love to hear from you!