Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 24, 2013

City fines home owner, tree cutter

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — An out-of-state homeowner found out how much Traverse City values its trees when city officials hit him with an $11,550 fine for removing three large trees in the city’s right-of-way.

Stuart Walker of Louisville, Ky., and Deering Tree Service of Maple City together paid the fine without complaint after receiving a letter from the city attorney. Deering Tree Service removed two maples and an oak tree from the corner of East State and Franklin streets on Feb. 18. The trees were in city-owned property between the street and sidewalk.

“It’s very important that city residents understand that portion is city property, and you can’t trim or cut those trees in any way, shape or form without permission from the city,” said Mayor Michael Estes. “You can’t even plant a tree there without permission.”

Walker could not be reached for comment.

Josh Deering of Deering Tree Service contends the two maples were rotten and unsafe, while the oak had a split and wasn’t shaped well. The owner wanted them removed and replaced with new maple trees. Deering said he didn’t realize he needed a permit to cut the trees.

“We’ve been cutting trees in the city for forty years,” Deering said. “We’ve gotten right-of-way permits, but in my mind we never needed to pull a permit to take down a tree in Traverse City.”

Contractors need to obtain a permit whenever they intend to take heavy equipment across city infrastructure or do work in a right-of-way, said Tim Lodge, city engineer. The property owned by the city for its streets, the right of way, is usually 66 feet wide. Lodge advised anyone doing work near a city street to check to determine if a permit is needed.

“We made a mistake,” Deering said. “We offered to repair the ground and plant new trees ... but then we didn’t hear anything until we received the letter from the city attorney demanding payment.”

The city had a tree appraiser establish the value of the trees, then added the cost to plant new trees and repair damage to the lawn area.

Neighbor Deven Larrance said he wasn’t pleased to see the trees removed.

“I was pretty angry; that one on Franklin was a big old oak tree. It was beautiful,” Larrance said. “You would think a big outfit like that would know it needed a permit.”

Larrance said an older woman previously owned the home and her yard was both beautiful and meticulous. The current owners bought it and started to gut the inside of the house and removed the trees. They then apparently changed their minds and put the house back on the market.

“It’s a beautiful old house, and it’s going to be hard to find someone to buy a house that’s been gutted, with no trees,” Larrance said.