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Developers Drawn Back Into Governor's Tree Fight


A last-minute substitute of a tree ordinance bill in the Senate could involve commercial development, especially in San Antonio. 

Gov. Greg Abbott put municipal regulation of trees on the call for the 30-day special session underway. The House passed its own version of a tree ordinance bill — which Abbott vetoed after the regular session. Tuesday, a Senate committee dropped in its own language before passing it to the Senate floor.

The Senate bill could significantly loosen restrictions on how heritage trees are handled, both in residential and commercial development, according to the Texas Municipal League. The House version was limited to mitigation fees, and an earlier Senate version excluded commercial development. 

New language would apply restrictions to residential and commercial property, preventing cities from regulating the maintenance of larger trees in extra-territorial jurisdiction. That could be especially harmful to San Antonio, which has seen so much growth just outside of the city limits along Loop 1604.

Additional changes remove regulation of trees with a circumference of less than 24 inches and strike mitigation fees for trees that are diseased or dead. Under the Senate bill, homeowners would pay lower mitigation fees than commercial developers.

Tuesday morning, San Antonio Council Member Manny Palaez testified against the Senate version of the bill. 

“San Antonio’s current tree ordinance not only protects our environment, it also reflects the unique needs of our military bases," Palaez told the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. "Trees help buffer light, protecting night-training missions, and help buffer noise. The military has been unequivocal in telling us these issues matter to them when considering base closures and mission realignment. We can’t afford to let the Senate and governor put hundreds of thousands of military-related jobs at risk.”  

The Texas Municipal League considers the tree ordinance bill overreach.

The bill, if passed by the Senate, would have to go to conference committee. It is not expected the House would agree to the changes made by the Senate.