AZLE — On Feb. 6, Azle City Council will see the first-ever appeal to the city’s tree preservation ordinance (2021-15). The tree ordinance was enacted by the council in 2021 to encourage the protection of healthy trees and provide for the replacement of trees removed during development.
Local developer and business owner Robert Petrie first brought the appeal to the Azle Planning and Zoning Commission, which also serves as the city’s tree board, during a Jan. 18 meeting. Petrie is the owner of the lot at 905 Boyd Rd., next to RaceTrac, which he hopes to develop into a Kodiak Car Wash. Petrie also owns a separate lot behind the planned car wash site which he eventually hopes to turn into a storage unit complex. Petrie brought his case before the P&Z with a request that they reduce the mitigation fees associated with tree removal on the 1.55-acre front lot of the property. Petrie also requested the P&Z waive the need for a tree survey on the heavily forested back lot, citing high costs.
“You can’t even count how many trees are back there,” Petrie said to the commission. “You can’t even walk through them. It makes it impossible to build back there if we don’t get a waiver on these trees. It would cost more than the entire project to do. It will be nothing forever.”
Petrie said surveying the less-forested front lot cost him $23,000. Of the 130 trees Petrie planned to remove from the front of the property, he hoped to mitigate fees for 81 trees totaling 736 caliper inches. Approximately 78% of the trees submitted in Petrie’s plans were located in an area he plans to use as a detention pond for the back lot, which the P&Z or city council could choose to address in a different meeting.
The city’s tree ordinance stipulates that developers pay $200 per every caliper inch of tree removed to the city’s tree reforestation fund. Petrie could alternatively plant 81 trees on the property or some combination of the two. The unmitigated fees to be paid by Petrie for 81 trees could total $147,200, but Petrie would likely only have to pay $88,000 after a 40% credit is applied per state law.
Over the course of the meeting, P&Z members expressed sympathy for Petrie’s cause and eventually voted to mitigate the $88,000 in fees down to $645 along with the replanting of five new trees on the lot. The new $645 fee is based on the base fees used by the city of Fort Worth in its tree ordinance.
“I think they’ve done a great job of keeping the maximum number of trees that they can, and I don’t think a business should be penalized a big amount of money because they are trying to utilize the site,” commissioner Rick Simmons who introduced the recommendation said.
Three of the four commissioners present at the meeting voted for Simmons’ recommendation, with only Jared Arneson dissenting.
“To knock it from $88,000 to $600 is way out of line,” Arneson said. “If we start making a precedent that there’s a variance every time it comes up, then what’s the purpose of a tree ordinance?”
With this being the first ever appeal to the ordinance, Director of Planning and Development David Hawkins said the P&Z and council are still learning and feeling things out.
“They are looking at these things case-by-case,” Hawkins said. “I will say what’s unique about this particular case is this is the very first one we ever had, so we’re testing the waters… Every site is different… It can be challenging to see a unique case for the very first time…This is the first time that P&Z and council get to be involved in how a site develops and how it’s being mitigated.”
Hawkins said Petrie is following correct procedures by applying for a variance. Petrie was previously fined approximately $30,000 for improperly removing trees on another property, 1330 Northwest Parkway, during the construction of another carwash in April of last year. After an agreement was reached in court, Petrie had to pay $10,000 in fines to the city’s general fund and make a payment of $13,920 to the tree mitigation fund. The Tree Reforestation Fund is used to help finance other tree projects in the city, like this year’s Texas Arbor Day tree giveaway where residents got to take home 160 young trees at no cost to them.
The P&Z’s decision is only a recommendation to the city council. During the Feb 6 council meeting, Petrie will present his request for mitigation and the P&Z’s recommendation to the council. The council can accept, alter or outright deny the recommendations of P&Z.