Tree Cutting Restrictions Spark Debate Over Local Control

Proponents of tree ordinances say they are just one of many city codes, while opponents think cities are going too far, and ultimately contributing to rising home costs.

By Jill AmentJune 14, 2017 11:49 am, , , ,

Over the past few days, trees, and what we may or may not do with them, have become a major point of contention for Texans.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to curb cities’ ability to protect local trees when they reconvene in July for the special legislative session. Abbott has described the City of Austin’s tree ordinances as “socialistic,” as KUT’s Mose Buchele reports.

But what started with a comment by the governor over Austin’s tree cutting restrictions, continues in places like Dallas, where residents are up in arms over a property developer cutting down acres of protected trees without city approval.

Buchele reports that about 60 Texas cities and towns have tree protection ordinances, and many of these towns lean conservative.

“Trees seem to get picked out a lot of the times and a lot of time, they get picked on,” says Matt Grubisich, the director of operations and urban forestry for the Texas Tree Foundation. “We tell people a lot of times what they can and can’t do on their property.”

You can’t, for example, paint your house pink, Grubisich says. He says that code enforcement rules exist to benefit the public good.

“Right now trees are getting a bad rap, but trees are just the current thing that are in the crosshairs – there are lots of things that we do to try to control what people can do on their private property,” Grubisich says.

Unlike grass or flowers, trees are not something that a homeowner can easily replace, which is one reason Grubisich says tree cutting restrictions exist for private property.

Yet, James Quintero, the director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank, says that tree cutting restrictions are just one of the many restrictions that contribute to the affordability problem in Texas cities.

“Ultimately the cost absorbed by the developers in adhering to these rules and these fee requirements adds to the cost of single-family homes,” Quintero says.

He says tree cutting restrictions represent the larger “Californization of Texas.

“From our view, what we see are local governments increasingly intruding on private property owners’ ability to live and be free,” he says. “Austin has been pursuing poor policy for a long time, but it’s only been within the last four years or so where conservatives have increasingly turned their attention to this issue of local control and how I think it’s been misapplied and misused.”

Grubisich says it’s important to remember that there are very few ordinances in Texas that regulate fewer than two acres of private property. He says Austin may be the only place in Texas that goes against this.


Written by Molly Smith.