Should Houston Try Harder To Protect Neighborhood Trees?

Jun. 18, 2013KUHF

After a hundred-year-old sycamore tree was chopped down in the Heights this week — a group of citizens wants to send a petition to City Hall to develop a tree preservation ordinance.

The movement is still small, less than 50 people had signed the petition on as of midday Tuesday.

But at least one Houston Councilmember is taking note. Ellen Cohen represents District C, where the sycamore that started this debate was located.

She says she’s meeting with residents in the next week or so to talk about the possibility of a tree protection ordinance.

“I think the idea, in terms of people’s passion, and you know in this case people following up by what they feel strongly about, is very important. We have people that complain about a lot of things and I think it’s great when people step forward.”

But the legal challenges in such an ordinance could be prohibitive. For example, can the city compel someone to preserve a tree on private property? And who would decide which trees are worthy of preservation?

“If they can come up with language, then we can certainly present it to the city attorney and he and his staff will have to look at it because it’s a question of legality. You know, what can we tell people that they can and cannot do on their private property.”

The City of West University Place, a small municipality in the heart of Houston, has a tree preservation ordinance that requires developers to get a permit before removing large trees with a circumference of 19 inches or more.

The ordinance applies to healthy trees in front or side yards as well in the right of way.