By Phil Crone
Dallas Builders Association Executive Officer
Governor Greg Abbott on Aug. 16 signed House Bill 7 into law ending a long and tumultuous road that the measure took prior to his signature. The legislation, authored by State Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Port Neches) and State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), enables property owners to receive mitigation credits to offset tree mitigation fees imposed by municipalities. The new law, effective Dec. 1, is very similar to HB 744, which was vetoed by the Governor in June.
Many Texas cities regulate the removal of trees from private property as development occurs. Often, this takes the form of a fee paid by the property owner to the city as a condition for permitted removal of the tree from private property. The methods and valuation used to calculate tree removal fees vary greatly among municipalities. In some cases, these fees can approach the figure paid by the property owner to acquire the property to begin with and render development financially infeasible.
HB 7 requires municipalities to apply a credit of up to 50 percent (40 percent for commercial projects) of the fee assessed for removing a tree on a residential development if the property owner plants a qualified replacement tree. Specifically, that replacement tree has to be at least two inches in diameter (4.5 feet above ground) and the municipality can specify the species and method for replanting. The tree may be planted either on the property or in another location mutually agreed upon. Additionally, a municipality may not prohibit the removal of a tree that is diseased, dead or poses an immediate threat to persons or property.
In other words, if a municipality assesses a mitigation fee of $10 per inch or $100 for a 10-inch tree, a residential developer who plants a replacement tree can receive a credit of at least $50 (50 percent). Prior to the bill, the credit, if provided at all, may only be $20 for a 2-inch tree. As such, the bill recognizes the future growth potential of newly planted trees. The credit should serve as a catalyst for property owners to plant replacement trees, while municipalities maintain broad latitude when it comes to regulating the methods for and fees associated with tree removal.
The primary difference between HB 7 and HB 744 concerns the regulation of trees on a private residence. These homeowners can entirely eliminate fees by planting a qualified replacement tree. The municipality also cannot charge a fee for removing trees less than 10 inches in diameter from a person’s residence.
The full text of the bill is linked here. Passing legislation that provides reforestation credit to property owners faced with tree mitigation fees was a priority of the Dallas Builders Association and the Texas Association of Builders. Thanks to the incentives it provides, the Dallas BA feels that HB 7 is a beneficial measure that allows private property owners to plant valuable trees as opposed to paying costly fees.