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Dozens of people tell House committee to scrap tree bill

July 28th, 2017

Dozens of people tell House committee to scrap tree bill

Posted: 8:01 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Highlights

Witnesses said if the bill passes, it would risk creating an open season on trees.

Committee Chairwoman Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said the bill needs more work.

Dozens of people told the Texas House Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday to let their own communities set local tree and land use regulations.

The panel heard testimony for more than five hours on three bills.

House Bill 77 by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, would require cities to allow builders to pay a fee instead of dedicating parkland “as a condition of approval for the development of real property.” Darby said the intent behind the bill is to give builders a choice, especially when dedicating parkland is not feasible.

Supporters of the bill, builders in particular, said a fee option would allow them to get the most out of their land. But opponents, mostly city officials not wanting the state to preempt local rules and residents who like trees and parks said such local ordinances contribute to quality of life.

Austin resident Ginger Turner said parks are important for breathing, connecting to nature and providing relief on a hot day.

“Parks are important,” she said. “Once the lands are developed, we can’t get it back.”

The committee left the bill pending.

READ: Local tree ordinances could be cut in Texas

HB 7 by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, would require cities that impose a fee for removing trees to allow a credit for tree planting to offset the fee by at least half. After brief testimony, the committee approved the bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a similar bill in June, saying it did more to protect cities than private property owners. In his veto statement, Abbott said, “Cities telling landowners what they can and cannot do with the trees in their own backyard is an assault on private property rights.

HB 70 by Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, would prohibit cities from restricting homeowners from removing trees on their property. The bill aligns with Abbott’s special session agenda.

Workman said trees are not owned by everyone in a community and that his bill would help protect property rights.

RELATED: Two Views: Let’s count the ways Texas loses without tree ordinances

Dozens of residents and city officials testified against HB 70, saying it would override local rules set by cities representing the values of the people who live there.

Former Republican Rep. Steve Toth, testifying against the bill, said he moved to The Woodlands because of its trees and restrictions on what property owners can do with their property including what color a homeowner is allowed to paint their house.

“That protects my investment,” he said, adding that trees contribute a significant amount to property value.

Charlie Bonner, representing the Texas League of Conservation Voters, recalled spending summers on his conservative grandfather’s ranch and learning that the earth belongs to everyone.

“This is not a liberal, Austin idea,” he said.

Opponents also worried that builders would use the bill to clear land for development. Workman pushed back, saying his bill isn’t for developers and that people aren’t standing next to a tree with a chainsaw at the ready.

Committee Chairwoman Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said the bill needs more work and left it pending.

http://www.statesman.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/dozens-people-tell-house-committee-scrap-tree-bill/pmXX6RviHtLYO23miDATwL/