Thursday, November 11, 2021

Canton tree ordinance is ruled ‘unconstitutional’

Canton Township efforts to protect trees in the community have been sharply curtailed by a decision of the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals. The decision, handed down last month, affirms the early ruling of the U.S. District Court which determined that the township demand that a private company replace 160 felled trees or remit $48,000 to the township tree fund was unconstitutional.

The court agreed with an early ruling that the efforts of the township to control and protect trees on private property, “went too far.” The original ruling by U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh in 2020 found, “Here, the character of the government action is to require a private property owner to maintain the trees on its property for the benefit of the community at large. This is a burden that should be shared by the community as a whole.

“The court finds that as applied to this plaintiff, the tree ordinance goes too far and is an unconstitutional regulatory taking.”

The suit was filed by F.P. Development, a private signage company, which had removed nearly 160 trees while clearing a clogged county drainage ditch. That action, according to township officials, violated the township tree ordinance which requires a tree removal permit for any tree more than 6-inches in diameter at breast height. The ordinance stipulates that the trees must be replaced and those who remove the trees are also required to pay a fee into the township tree fund which was established for the preservation, planting and maintenance of trees in the community.  

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been representing F.P. Development in the legal challenge to the township ordinance. The group also represents Gary and Matt Percy, brothers who are also challenging the township tree ordinance through the federal courts. In preparing to start a Christmas tree farm on 16-acres near Belleville and Yost roads, the brothers reportedly cleared 1,500 trees. The township required, under the tree ordinance, that they pay nearly $450,000 into the tree fund for removal of the trees on the private property.

“Protecting Canton's natural resources is a shared community interest,” stated Canton Township Supervisor Anne-Marie Hudak Graham in a prepared statement. “Our tree ordinance was designed to protect greenspace as development occurs, and it's unfortunate that a Texas-based interest group is fighting against the Canton community. 

“This decision strips our local community of its power to protect valuable natural resources and develop responsibly.”