Legislation could kill Buda tree protections

Protections that help preserve heritage trees in cities such as Buda could go by the wayside if legislation makes its way through the Texas Senate.

As city leaders keep an eye on Senate Bill 782, authored by State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Buda Planning and Zoning Commissioners are forwarding to council possible changes to the city’s Unified Development Code (UDC) that address perceived flaws regarding heritage trees.

Those changes, which include stiffer penalties for those who cut down trees, could make their way into the city’s new UDC should the Buda City Council decide on it in the future.

Colin Strother, Buda P&Z chair, said issues with Buda’s draft for the new UDC extended to language that could allow those who cut down a heritage tree to replace it with new trees.

“That’s not what we want to go for,” Strother said, “We want them (City Council) to have to protect the trees that are already here.”

Strother said that P&Z commission members made recommendations to city council to “remove the provisions allowing people to cut down whatever trees they want and add a tax or penalty for those individuals who cut down protected and heritage trees.”

Strother is currently serving his third term on the P&Z Board and remembers when the mission to protect the trees in Buda got a shove forward.

Strother said that most of the desired 163 trees were heritage oaks, but Buda fought for the trees and TxDOT only ended up removing 27 smaller trees along 967.

Strother also mentioned the recent Main Street expansion project as being contingent on the survival of the ancient oaks winding along the road as well as the heritage tree over 200 years old that was relocated on the city’s new municipal site.

“We said if they couldn’t improve Main Street while preserving the trees, we would rather not do it,” Strother said.

The draft of the new UDC is still in a development and review stage, but the recommendations from P&Z have been added to the draft code and will be reviewed by City council members before the new UDC is adopted.

There is no organized movement to save the trees, but when people talk about what they love about Buda, it’s the small-town charm and the trees are a part of it,” Strother said.

Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said the city is trying to be a leader when it comes to the “conservation of trees, wildlife and even water.”

He said he wasn’t surprised P&Z wanted to make penalties “even stiffer than they are now.”

Ruge said he was okay with the draft of the UDC at this point. He said city council has not seen changes recommended by P&Z just yet.

“When it comes to design and profitability, it’s not as easy for (developers) to cut down heritage trees without some sort of remediation or penalty,” Ruge said. “They have to either pay back or replace trees.”

However, city leaders are waiting on the outcome of Senate Bill (SB) 782.

If the bill is passed, governmental entities cannot prohibit a landowner from trimming or removing trees or timber located on the land.

Ruge said he believed the bill is focused on property rights. It’s something city leaders are publicly opposing.

“A lot of cities have ordinances that say, ‘we’d rather you not cut down that beautiful oak tree. If you do, there has to be some remediation,’” Ruge said. “We’re going to wait and see with the UDC. That piece of legislation we’re not in favor of.”

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