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Wednesday, September 12, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Tree removal permitting to change in October

Sometimes trees have the most powerful voices in our city.

At the Sept. 5 meeting of the Environmental Commission, Max Elliott, who is a resident of the Govalle neighborhood, alerted the commission that recently a builder removed five heritage trees “on a Saturday morning when the neighborhood couldn’t really ask any questions.”

The applicant removed four pecans and one American elm from three lots in the area: 3500 Gonzales St., 3504 Gonzales St. and 739 Gunter St. The three lots in question are slated to be redeveloped with two residences on each lot.

“I still don’t understand the justification for how those trees were removed,” Elliott said.

“Yeah, I’m kind of confused,” agreed Commissioner Wendy Gordon.

According to City Arborist Keith Mars, the five trees were properly permitted for removal due to their condition, which his staff determined to be an “imminent hazard.” He told the Austin Monitor that their uprooting was done conscientiously and with all the trees on the lot in mind. Part of the permit for the tree removal included the applicants leaving all of the other protected and heritage trees on the lot.

However, Mars admitted that the process did have a few hiccups. “When (the applicant removed) the trees to demolish the house, they didn’t have tree protection for those which remain. So the critical root zones on those trees were impacted.”

Elliott told the commission that he had spoken to Mars, and in their conversation, “He acknowledged that the city messed up.” In an effort to remedy the damaged trees, the city is requiring the builder to plant new trees and offer certified arborist care to the heritage and protected trees whose root systems were damaged.

Still, even with the proposed remediation Elliott is not satisfied. “My whole neighborhood – which was a former pecan grove – is vulnerable for tree removal,” he said.

Mars clarified to the Monitor that this is not necessarily the case. However, he noted that many feel that redevelopment happens because tree removals are granted. To help reverse that notion, permitting for tree removal will be wrapped into residential demolition permitting effective this October.

In the meantime, Chair Linda Guerrero expressed her concerns about having multiple heritage trees cut down simultaneously. “We will have people looking into this,” she told Elliott at the meeting.

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

City of Austin Heritage Tree Ordinance: The city ordinance that prohibits the unlicensed destruction of trees greater than 19 inches in diameter.

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