There’s Something to be Said for Living in the Country

There are a number of trees along the property line which separates my backyard from that of my neighbor.   Among the trees making up this natural border were four cypress trees.  Those are the tall cedar-looking trees popularly used for windbreaks and for adding privacy to one’s property.

Over the past few years, something (a fungus, a beetle, or a tree plague of unknown origin) had infected these four trees.  Unfortunately, earlier this Spring it was evident that three of the trees had succumbed and that the fourth was in the last throes of its struggle for life.  The really bad news was that one of the dead trees was leaning over a fence and in danger of toppling, at any moment, into my neighbor’s backyard where young children often play.

Time to call the tree service to take the dead trees out and eliminate the hazards they posed.  Now the story begins to get complicated.

Up until a couple of years ago, we had lived in the country.  That is to say, outside of any municipal city limits.  In the interim, we’ve been annexed by the closest city and are now beneficiaries of all the services and regulations that such municipalities provide for, or is it enforce upon, their citizens.

In the good old days of rural living, I’d call the tree service.  They’d come out the next day, chop down the offending tree(s), grind them up, and be on their merry way.

Sadly those halcyon days are gone.  After the trees service came out, inspected the dead trees, and agreed to handle the situation, they told me that I would have to get a permit from the city to remove the trees.

“But they’re dead!  Is there any legitimate question that they need to go?” I asked.

“Not really,” replied my friendly neighborhood tree surgeon, “but the city Arborist will want to confirm that and make sure there aren’t any other issues.”

Issues?  What issues could there be?

Five days later, the trees were still dead and still continuing to lean over my neighbor’s backyard.  I called the tree service to check on the status of my permit application.

“Oh yeah, we sent it in.  The Arborist has it on his schedule to come out and inspect your trees.  He told us that he suspects that there might be a “density” issue with removing them from your property.”

Say what?  I then learned that the city now has regulations which state that every residential lot has to have so many trees that grow higher than the house’s roof line and so many that are shorter than the roof line.  I wonder who was behind this landmark legislation and when it had been sneaked into the city charter.

Apparently, the Arborist was concerned that removing the four dead/dying trees would drop me into a state of noncompliance.   Why did he suspect this?  He’d never been on my property before.  More importantly, was I going to be told I had to leave the dead trees in place just to satisfy the demands of the new city ordinance?

Then I thought of the new residential community that is being developed two or three miles down the road from my house.  Six months ago, it had been a very heavily wooded area overlooking a greenway which meanders along the banks of a local creek.  Today, it is an ugly splotch of mud and dirt which has been clear cut of every tree.

So I asked the tree service representative, “How can the Arborist be concerned about my removing four dead trees on my property, but apparently have no problem at all with a real estate developer coming in and completely stripping every tree off of 10 acres of land?”

“Oh!  That’s a zoning thing.”, came the reply.  In other words, it’s City Hall, and as we all know, you can’t beat City Hall.

Fortunately, the City Arborist finally found time in his busy schedule to inspect my trees.  He agreed that they were dead and that given the number of healthy trees remaining on my property, I was not in violation of any known city ordinance.

Order has been restored.

The moral of this story?  Henry David Thoreau had it correct when he wrote, “That government is best, which governs least.”


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