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 The Bloomfield Hills City Commissioners passed a woodland ordinance in 2012 that would be nullified by proposed legislation to eliminate municipal restrictions on tree removal.

The Bloomfield Hills City Commissioners passed a woodland ordinance in 2012 that would be nullified by proposed legislation to eliminate municipal restrictions on tree removal.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

City laments Lansing bill that would nullify local tree ordinances

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 3, 2018

BLOOMFIELD HILLS/LANSING — More than six years ago, the Bloomfield Hills City Commission put the final touches on a woodlands ordinance that had taken it a full year to craft.

It’s complex, and for good reason: The commission had the tricky task of walking the line between the rights of property owners to do what they like on their own land and preserving the lush tree canopy that the city is known for. Some say it does credit to Bloomfield Hills’ robust property values.

One Upper Peninsula legislator is looking to make that 13-page ordinance a moot point.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced Senate Bill 1188 in early November to prevent local government bodies from enacting ordinances that restrict property owners from removing trees or other vegetation.

Residential property owners would be exempt from what’s being called the “Vegetation Removal Prevention Act.”

Casperson’s grandfather founded Casperson and Son Trucking, a logging company in the U.P. His second term in the Michigan Senate expires this year.

The Eagle reached out to the senator’s office to ask if that relationship was a motivator to develop the legislation and, if not, what prompted him to write the bill. He did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

In the Eagle’s coverage area — represented by Sens. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, and Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion — support for SB 1188 is split. Marleau voted with 22 others in favor of the effort, while Knollenberg was one of just a handful of Republicans amidst nearly a dozen Democratic senators to vote against the bill.

In short, the Bloomfield Hills woodlands ordinance restricts property owners from removing more than four healthy trees 8 inches in diameter or larger within a two-year period. Plans to remove more than that would require a permit, City Commission approval and in some cases, replacement of trees upon completion of a project.

After the commission took so much time to pass that ordinance in 2012, City Manager David Hendrickson — who was appointed after that action — said the commission is disappointed in the legislative support for SB 1188.

“The city of Bloomfield Hills is renowned for its natural features, wooded lots and majestic tree-lined streets,” Hendrickson said in an email. “SB 1188 is in direct conflict with keeping the character of our city and one that attracts people who want to work and live here. Maintaining a tree canopy offers a host of environmental and economic benefits that help maintain and increase property values.”

Hendrickson added in his email that Bloomfield Hills’ ordinances, in particular the woodland ordinance, are well researched with data and community support.

“These laws were sold to the public as a way to encourage tree-lined neighborhoods and to protect big, old trees that are community landmarks,” reads a statement on Casperson’s website. “However, these ordinances are often written loosely enough to allow for abuse. Nobody is arguing the value of tree-lined neighborhood streets, but in some communities, the ‘tree police’ use these ordinances to harass property owners and fill local coffers.

According to the statement, the Vegetation Removal Preemption Act “keeps local tree removal ordinances focused on true ‘heritage’ trees and residential areas but allows property owners to make their own decisions about trees in areas zoned for agricultural, industrial, business and commercial use.’ Passing the Senate with minor revisions 23-15, SB 1188 now moves on to the House for a vote, likely before the new year, during the lame duck session.