Opinion: Don’t confuse support for trees with private property rights
The Homebuilders Association of Michigan is supporting a recently introduced package of bills in the Michigan Legislature that will reign in municipal tree police, and for good reason.
Dozens of communities around the state have local ordinances that require private property owners to get permission before they remove a tree – usually defined as anything with a woody stem three inches in diameter or greater – from their own property. Not only that, townships then require property owners to replace any tree they remove or pay into a local “tree fund.”
Consider that for a moment. When you buy property, you pay for assets on that property, including trees. If you choose to alter property you own, why would you pay for the trees a second time – to a local government that already gets your tax dollars, no less?
Homebuilders around the state buy property parcels large and small to construct homes and neighborhoods. They understand both the importance of trees for aesthetics and curb appeal, as well as the necessity of clearing land to make room for homes. Above all, they recognize the importance of private property rights.
These local ordinances have been sold to communities as a way to promote tree-lined streets in suburban neighborhoods, or to protect old landmark trees that are a significant asset to a city, or even to improve air quality and reduce noise and light pollution. These are all great values, ones that everyone supports. But the laws are written broadly enough to allow abuse, where local officials use the ordinance to line their own coffers, or promote or discourage developments they do or don’t favor.
The proposed Senate bills offer a narrowly tailored effort to ensure we can protect tree-lined neighborhoods and protect true heritage trees, but they keep local governments from sending the tree police on property zoned for commercial, industrial or agricultural uses.
These bills are overdue, and developers around the state stand in support of this smart change.
Bob Filka is CEO of the Home Builders Association of Michigan.