When are some Houstonians going to learn they can't just cut down trees, especially those of certain varieties and, even then, without a permit?
The good news for those who believe a lush canopy of trees helps add to Houston's desirability as a place to live: City officials slapped the property leasee of the Wendy's at 5003 Kirby Drive with a hefty $300,000 damage settlement for illegally chopping down a half-dozen, 20-year-old live oak trees under the cover of darkness.
"We are also hopeful that this will further drive home the point that the city will not stand idly by when trees are improperly removed from our right-of-way and that developers who do so will be met with swift, punitive legal action," Parker said.
The not-so-good news: In an unrelated incident, 26 oak trees surrounding the nearby XO Communications building at 2401 Portsmouth St. recently came down. Swamplot reports that the trees were on private property and the owner had a permit for their removal. City rules require the property owner to plant new trees but they do not have to be oaks since no new construction is involved. Redbuds, pines and Japanese blueberry trees will be planted, the website reports.
The settlement for trees slaughtered at Wendy's, ranging in size from 10 to 20 inches in diameter, was formally reached within less than three weeks and was based on the value of the six removed trees, Mayor Annise Parker's office explained in a press release.
"We are pleased with how quickly we were able to resolve this with the developer and the amount received in reparations, but we are also hopeful that this will further drive home the point that the city will not stand idly by when trees are improperly removed from our right-of-way and that developers who do so will be met with swift, punitive legal action," Parker said.
The franchise owner, Ali Dhanani of Austin-based Haza Foods LLC, leases the property and claimed the trees were removed because their roots were wreaking havoc on the pavement at the site. Property owner, Houston businessman and Forbes' notable Lias J. Steen, says the leasee did not ask permission from him or the city for the tree removal.
Permits are required as mandated in a 1999 city ordinance before cutting down certain types of trees on city rights of way. No such permits were sought or acquired before the oaks were removed at night.
“Our trees are valuable resources and their preservation is important to the city,” Parker said. “We have a fair process for developers, but when they violate our policies we will not hesitate to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
With the settlement, the city has recovered more than $1 million for improperly removed trees this year, which is "unprecedented," Parker added.