Proposed bill may uproot local tree ordinances

Local lawmakers may push back against a bill due up in next month’s special legislative session that could reduce a city’s ability to impose tree ordinances.

Senate Bill 782, authored by State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would limit the fees a local government could impose on private property owners for removal of trees on their property which exceed 10 inches in girth.

But some local municipalities claim the bill could give the state control over matters relating to a cities Unified Devleopment Code (UDC).

Colin Strother, Buda Planning and Zoning Commission chairperson, said if the controversial bill passes “it will be the height of government intrusion.”According to a February Austin American-Statesman article, there are approximately 50 cities across Texas that have tree protection ordinances in place that would be affected if this bill passed.

Strother, a Buda resident with more than 20 years of experience working in local government, said he is disappointed in Campbell for poorly representing her constituents since she represents Buda as a part of her territory.

“She never comes to Buda, it’s no surprise she doesn’t care,” Strother said regarding Campbell’s reason behind filing the bill.

Buda Assistant City Manager Chance Sparks argues that trees play an important role in the ecosystem and tree protection ordinances are not an aversion to private property rights, but a matter of due process.

“It’s not so much saying ‘you can’t (cut down a tree on private property),” Sparks said. “Instead it’s saying ‘if you want to do it, this is the process to do it.’”

Campbell, along with Gov. Greg Abbott, have expressed their approval of the concept behind the bill and claim that the passage of such legislation would further protect Texas’ private property rights.

According to the Statesman report, Campbell said city tree ordinances are the most “egregious” property rights violations in the state.

“Cities don’t do this (make tree protection ordinances) to make it harder on homeowners,” Sparks said.

Sparks added trees offer more than pleasing aesthetics, as they are connected to many flora and fauna in the ecosystem and they can offer energy savings by providing shade to nearby buildings.

Municipalities such as Buda have passed tree ordinances applying to every tree in the city limits, including those on private property,

Strother said the city’s tree ordinances maintain a “small-town feeling of Buda.”

“I think the governor needs to mind his own business,” Strother said. “Being a Home Rule city means we get to make our own rules so they (state of Texas) don’t have the right to tell us what we can and can’t do with issues concerning our UDCs.”

Strother also didn’t rule out the possibility of a lawsuit against the state of Texas should state lawmakers pass the contentious bill SB 782.

“If the governor takes away this right of Home Rule cities to regulate their own city, what other local rights will be taken away in the future?” Strother said. “Should this pass, municipalities might sue the state for intrusion.”

Sparks said there is still hope to maintain the authority to regulate tree ordinances within individual cities as long as concerned constituents are sharing their views with lawmakers.

“There is a lot of opportunity in the legislative process for constituents to call their representatives and senators and express their non-support of this bill,” Sparks said. “As a constituent, they will listen to you.”

The special session of the 85th Texas Legislature will begin on July 18 and will last a total of 30 days. 

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