Michigan Senate votes to chop tree preservation rules

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Mike Saintonge, 34, an employee for Davy Tree Expert Company is seen cutting and trimming trees for local businesses along Woodward who complained that people couldn't see their businesses.**Workers from Davey Tree Expert Co. in Auburn Hills cut and trim trees on the corners of Woodward Ave. and Oxford St. in Ferndale. October 12, 2018. , Detroit, MI.

Lansing — Michigan business owners would have more rights to cut down trees and vegetation on their property under legislation approved Thursday by Michigan’s Republican-led Senate.

The upper chamber voted 23-15 on bills inspired by a feud in Canton Township, where a fight over unauthorized tree removal and “tree fund” replacement fees has prompted multiple lawsuits.

The legislation would prohibit local governments from enacting or enforcing rules for vegetation on industrial, commercial, business or agricultural property. Business owners would have free rein to clear their land, except for 17 specific species of large “heritage” trees that could be regulated.

Supporters say the legislation would preserve property rights for business owners and curb overzealous “tree police” in local governments with ordinances that have complicated development efforts. It would not limit tree rules in residential zones.

But local government and environmental groups contend the six-bill package would usurp local control in communities across the state that have developed unique regulations because of unique characteristics.

Trees and vegetation can serve as a natural filtration system for storm water, help draw chemical contaminants from the soil at industrial sites and provide a sound or sight barrier between industrial and residential properties, they argued in committee.

Republican Sens. Marty Knollenberg of Troy, Mike Kowall of White Lake Township, Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights and Dale Zorn of Ida Township joined all 11 Democrats in voting against the main bills, which now head to the House for consideration.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, sued Canton Township in federal court on Monday, alleging the Wayne County community's tree ordinance is an unconstitutional taking of private property and a required replacement fee is an "excessive fine" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

The lawsuit came weeks after Canton sued Gary and Matt Percy, who own a local trucking business, alleging they cleared an estimated 1,500 protected trees from an industrial property without seeking approval through a local permitting process or paying to plant replacements on public property.

Canton officials asked the brothers to pay up to $550,000 into a “tree fund” — more than the Percys paid last year for the full 16-acre property, which "essentially was blighted" and plagued by an invasive species, according to their attorney.

Since clearing the property, the Percy brothers began planting spruces on the land to create a Christmas tree farm in an apparent attempt to qualify for an exemption to the tree preservation ordinance. But Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Susan Hubbard halted the effort amid the ongoing legal battle.


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