I live in a neighborhood where small, older homes are being torn down and replaced by much larger ones. When I moved in eight years ago, every block was lined with beautiful, majestic trees. Today, they are mostly gone, cut down in order to squeeze more house onto the smaller lots.
On a recent evening, I heard a chainsaw coming from a vacant lot near our home. The lot had two trees, and one of them, an old oak, is really special. Its huge branches sweep over the street, providing shade and a sense of peace to anyone walking by.
A worker was cutting down the smaller of the two trees, and I asked if he was removing the large one. He said it was scheduled to go the next morning.
I asked if he had a permit, he called the property owner, and handed me the phone. I politely explained that I was a neighbor and asked if he had a permit to cut the tree down. The man responded that he didn’t need a permit. I said that wasn’t my understanding since the tree was on a vacant lot. Again, I was perfectly friendly.
An unpleasant encounter
At this point the man suddenly became unhinged. He began to yell at me to mind my own business. I told him that I lived on the block and that things that affect the community affected me. He then asked in a contemptuous tone how many properties I owned on that street. I said two. The yelling continued. He accused me of lying and told me to go home. He then hung up on me, called the landscaper and told him to contact the police if I didn’t go away.
I did a little research and learned that the man is a builder/remodeler whom I knew by sight from various industry events. After some soul searching, I reported him to the city. The man was contacted by local officials who looked at the tree and explained that legally removing it would be complicated given its size. He would need to replace three times the diameter inches he was taking out, in this case more than 50. In other words, the man would have to plant 150 diameter inches of new trees in order to legally cut that one down. He has since decided to keep the tree, and given that it sits at the edge of the lot, it can coexist just fine alongside the new home he is building.
One oak tree and two takeaways
For me, there are two important principles underlying this whole story. First is civility. Had the remodeler politely explained why he felt that the tree needed to go, I would have left the whole thing alone. I’m a big believer in property rights, and as a rule don’t make trouble for other people. It was his bullying and threats, not the tree, that prompted me to call the city. I wasn’t even aware of how restrictive the codes actually were until later.
The second principle is the concept of valuing beauty, history and our common resources. That tree affects all of us in a positive way, just as good water quality affects us all. You are not allowed to pollute a river running through your land if other people rely on it. I now know that there are codes in place to protect mature trees in my city. I believe they should be followed.