City of Houston sues developer for cutting down protected trees

October 8, 2013 9:16:23 AM PDT
The City of Houston has filed a lawsuit against a developer that cut down two century-old trees.

According to city officials, Signature City Homes and its owners and contractors removed two "large, healthy and valuable trees" in August. Both trees were in the public right-of-way.

City law prohibits the removal of a tree when at least 50 percent of the trunk is in the public right-of-way. The lawsuit filed in Harris County District Court claims a Signature City Homes knew this and removed the trees anyway.

A 100-year-old Live Oak with a trunk measuring about 36 inches in diameter was removed August 17 at 801 Bomar Street. It was then discovered that another tree of similar age and size was removed at 1704 Blodgett St.

City officials said the defendants have refused to make appropriate reparation for their acts, leaving them with no choice but to seek relief in court.

City Attorney Dave Feldman calls the developers' actions wanton and malicious.

"The timing of the destruction of trees on a weekend raises the suggestion that the developer cut the trees down in an attempt to escape detection and avoid certain community protest and legal action," Feldman said in a release. "It is also particularly disturbing coming on the heels of the well-publicized destruction of vegetation at Woodland Park and the price that a developer had to pay for its acts in that instance. These defendants placed their own commercial interests ahead of our citizens' right to enjoy these trees. We have to make it clear to everyone that the public will simply not tolerate this type of conduct."

Signature City Homes' attorney Brian Cweren issued the following statement: "Signature City Homes has tried multiple times to sensibly resolve this dispute, but the city instead is wasting taxpayer sources with frivolous litigation. This lawsuit is a cynical election-season stunt. We look forward to sharing with the court the city's conduct in this dispute."

The lawsuit alleges counts of negligence, gross negligence, conversion, theft and trespass. The city seeks $500,000 in actual damages, as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees as allowed for under the Texas Theft Liability Act.

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