Tree protection ordinance changes still pending

GRAND BLANC TWP. — Grand Blanc Township officials continue to struggle with proposed amendments to a part of the zoning ordinance that regulates tree removal.

The issue has been volleyed back and forth between the township Board of Trustees and Planning Commission for months as officials walk a fine line between preserving trees that cannot be replaced, and respecting the rights of property owners.

The latest iteration of the amendment comes from the Planning Commission, which is seeking to protect three categories of trees: historic (trees designated by the commission has having notable historic value), specimen (trees of high value due to their size, age or other prominent botanical characteristics) and native (trees of a botanical genus native to southeastern Michigan).

The proposed changes also state that any property owner proposing to clear more than 25 percent of the trees measuring eight inches or greater in caliper must notify the township and submit a sketch of those trees to the Planning Commission for review and approval.

The language does not require permits for people engaged in any land development subject to site plan review, according to township attorney David Lattie.

“That would eliminate nearly all commercial or industrial developments,” Lattie said. “So, anything that isn’t part of that formal site plan process … is required to abide by this ordinance.”

“We’ve discussed this for quite a while,” said Supervisor Scott Bennett. “We had a much more onerous ordinance that we felt was inhibiting developers. Several developments had to pay significant amounts of money (to remove trees). We wanted to get away from that, but the Planning Commission felt we needed some rules so we didn’t end up with wholesale clear cutting of trees.”

Bennett showed some concern for people who may purchase property to build a house, only to learn that one of the specified trees “is in the wrong location on the lot.”

“I’m not sure what the remedy would be,” Bennett said.

Trustee Joel Feick said he, too, takes issue with the potential infringement on property owners’ rights.

“I just think it’s one more layer of government, one more layer of restriction that you’re putting on average folks,” Feick said. “I don’t see a huge need for this.”

He also questioned whether the rules are enforceable.

Lattie explained that, when a violation has been identified and confirmed, the township may issue a municipal civil infraction which could include fines and restitution.

The township also could enjoin the property owner “from doing something they’re not supposed to do,” he said, adding that it may be difficult to catch violations.

Although the Planning Commission will compile an inventory of historic or other special trees, it is likely the township would not learn about the removal of a protected specimen until after the fact.

“I’m guessing we won’t have a lot of preventative processes in place to prevent the removal of these trees,” Lattie said.

As it stands, the township board has taken no action on the proposed amendment and may kick it back to the Planning Commission for further review and consideration of the board’s concerns.