Development or devastation?
Area residents have taken to social media and been contacting the city of Baytown since heavy equipment began knocking down and clearing away a stand of majestic trees at the intersection of North Alexander Drive and Highway 146 late last week.
City Council member Bob Hoskins said he received contacts all weekend from people upset at the loss of the shady corner. The intersection is at the southwest corner of his district.
“That’s a God-given gift we’ve had out there that laid unprotected,” he said. “People admired it, but never did anything to protect it.”
With Baytown’s booming growth, he said, people are looking at all parts of the city for business development — including that corner.
In this case, he said, a neighboring storage business wanted to expand and also to add a convenience store/gas station.
They bought the property and complied with all of the legal requirements, he said. “If they’re putting in a business that matches that zone, then it flies right through.”
“City Council doesn’t get to review this because there’s nothing out there that would give cause for that to come to City Council,” he said. “At what point do people want the City Council and the City of Baytown to start interfering with property rights?”
Hoskins explained that zoning laws are written to allow people flexibility in how to use the property they own while also protecting the property value of nearby property — generally this means that neighboring properties have somewhat similar development, such as commercial buildings in this case.
It is only when a property owner wants to build something that conflicts with existing zoning that they have to go to council to request a zoning variance.
Hoskins said council has discussed creating a tree ordinance to protect the existing tree canopy, but has not taken that action. In any case, he said, the discussion centered more on large-scale developments, such as new subdivisions.
Instead, the city’s Unified Land Development Code requires new buildings to incorporate landscaping, but does not require retention of existing trees.
“We can only do what we’re allowed to by law,” Hoskins said.
Baytown resident Susan Cummings was one of the first to bring the concern about the trees to social media.
“I’m not the only person who saw those trees and loved those trees,” she said.
“What I am most concerned about is that we as a community value community and what goes into community. It’s not just money, but the natural resources that we enjoy.”
She said she would like to city to identify old-growth trees that need protection.
“I hope everybody starts noticing more about ordinance signs and zoning signs or building permit signs,” Cummings said.
“We do have a way to go in and tell City Council what we would like in our city. It’s just that most of the time people think that somebody else is going to do it.”
Mayor Brandon Capetillo said he is aware that council has discussed a tree ordinance in the past.
“I am certainly willing to revisit the issue as our community continues to grow,” Capetillo said. “I believe it would be beneficial for our city to preserve as much of our green canopy as possible.”