News Story

Township Hits Brothers With Fine For Removing Trees

Wayne County property owners could face $450,000 fine

Gary and Matt Percy, brothers and business owners in Canton Township, Michigan, face nearly a half a million dollars in fines after they removed trees from their own property without the township's permission.

Many of the plants the Wayne County township is classifying as trees are actually invasive species, according to the brothers’ attorney. The Percys hope to start a Christmas tree farm on the land, which would involve planting 2,500 conifers, such as balsams, firs, and spruce trees.

“It is a shockingly high fine for allegedly clearing a retired grazing pasture in an industrial area,” said their lawyer, Michael J. Pattwell.

Township officials claim the brothers violated a local ordinance that requires landowners to get government permission before removing trees.

The township does not know the exact number of trees the brothers removed. Instead, it hired an arborist to examine the trees on an adjacent property to estimate what trees had been removed from the Percy’s land. The township proposed a settlement of fines totaling about $450,000 for the removal of what it says is about 1,500 trees, including 100 landmark or historic trees.

The fine can be reduced by about $70,000 if the brothers pay into the township’s tree fund and plant new trees, according to the settlement offer.

Pattwell objected both to the fine and the arborist’s method for estimating the number of trees cut down. He also said the brothers thought they qualified for an agricultural exemption from the township. The trees they removed, he said, were mostly invasive plants, including phragmites, buckthorn, and autumn olive. The land, which is located in an industrial part of the township, included a number of dead ash trees as well.

“Nobody argues with the stated goals of local ordinances to protect true heritage trees in communities or promote neighborhood trees to beautify neighborhoods,” Pattwell said. “But in this case, we believe strongly the township has abused its authority in order to punish a landowner unreasonably.”

Pattwell also said the adjacent property has a different, unique history, making the comparison with the Percy’s land problematic.

Pattwell added that the conflict between the brothers and the township is not an isolated problem.

“There are many communities around Michigan that have established local tree removal ordinances that put municipalities in the business of harassing local business and property owners unfairly, certainly,” he said.

Kristin Kolb, the township’s attorney, said that she was not at liberty to discuss the specific amount of the fines because of a confidentiality agreement. Pattwell said that no confidentiality agreement exists.

Kolb said citations for illegally removing trees are rare in Canton Township, and she defended the township’s decision to enforce the ordinance in this case. She also said the method the arborist used, examining an adjacent property that is part of the “same forest,” is recognized in the arborist field.

The township has not received a response from Pattwell about the settlement, Kolb said. Patwell said the Percy brothers will defend themselves against Canton Township’s fine and threatened legal action.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.