December 2, 2023

Aside from imposing a moratorium on the cutting of trees, the city council should also consider suspending the approval of applications of private land developers to be exempted from Baguio’s Zoning Ordinance.
City Planning and Development Officer Antonette Anaban has suggested for members of the city council to look into the possibility of imposing a moratorium on the application for zoning exemptions, which she said could help in the efforts to preserve Baguio’s forest covers.
Anaban said while the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) is being updated, there is also a need to suspend the approval of requests for zoning applications.
“Perhaps, we should also consider a moratorium on the applications for zoning exemption. Hindi nako-control. Ang daming applications for exemption and that defeats the purpose of the Zoning Ordinance,” Anaban told the city council.
Among other things, the approval of a request for exemption from the Zoning Ordinance can allow a developer to put up a commercial building in an area that is classified as a residential zone.
Anaban made the suggestion during the council inquiry on how the city could further preserve its remaining trees, in light of the developments brought about by the cutting of 54 trees by condominium developer Vista Residences, Inc. within its property at Outlook Drive barangay.
Vista Residences, Inc. was granted an exemption by the Local Zoning Board of Adjustment and Appeals composed of previous city officials.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera Director Ralph Pablo recommended for the city to no longer award lands that have several trees and instead identify these areas for city needs.
“Since the awarding of lands is a collaborative effort of the city and the DENR, we might as well not award areas that have lots of trees, especially if the applicants have not introduced any developments yet in these areas.”
Pablo added this could be a cheaper option for the city government, rather than buying back a lot that has already been awarded to a private applicant.
Based on the data of the DENR, out of the city’s 1,400 hectares of watersheds or reservations, 700 hectares have trees and out of the 4,300 hectares classified as residential and commercial, including the central business district and those that could be applied for under the Townsite Sales Application, 800 hectares have trees.
An inventory conducted by the same agency showed only 2.5 million trees remain standing in various green patches in the city.
“Most of the requests for tree cutting are within titled lots, government properties, and in road-rights-of-way where there are developments,” Pablo said.
Also, among the DENR recommendations is for the city to identify and delineate green zones or safeguarded lots within each barangay or grant tax incentives or annual environmental cash subsidies to private lot owners who maintain their tree covers.
He also said the city can require that all infrastructure development plans passing through the City Buildings and Architecture Office and the City Engineer’s Office should include evaluation of the land space and other consequential impacts, such as tree cutting, before the same is subjected to DENR permitting and environmental impact evaluation.
Pablo added the city may recommend that the award of applied lots for residential purposes be limited to 500 square meters and those with more than 500 sq. m. must allocate 30 percent of their space for appropriate green cover. He admitted reducing the area awarded to a private land applicant to 500 sq. m. may have to hurdle legal challenges.
The maximum land area an applicant can apply for under the TSA is 1,000 sq. m. – Jane B. Cadalig