Wednesday, October 5, 2022

City of Wilmington forgives thousands of dollars in tree-cutting fines

Cutting down trees wihtout permission in Wilmington could land you with big fines, but it is more likely the city will waive them, even if they do assess them. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington leaders have touted their strong tree policy and strict punishments for violations of that policy in an effort to make them appear ‘tree-friendly.’ However, when one actually looks at enforcement of these policies it is clear to see that oftentimes, the city’s bark is worse than its bite.

The City of Wilmington has yet again forgiven thousands of dollars worth of fines for the improper removal of trees from private property.

Last year, the City of Wilmington cited property owners off Windchime Drive for removing approximately 10 trees without proper permits, according to a Board of Adjustment appeal to the citation. Those 10 trees would have cost property owners $6,125 in fines and mitigation efforts would be required.

But after a year and the hiring of an attorney, the property owners have withdrawn their appeal after reaching an agreement with the City of Wilmington.

That agreement?

The homeowners will be required to plant five new trees, between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. The only restriction on the trees planted was the requirement the trees could not be palm trees and had to be native to the area.

The property owners claimed that there were exigent circumstances requiring the tree’s removal — Hurricane Florence.

The exact circumstances surrounding the removal of the trees is not outlined in a motion to withdraw an appeal to the citation to the city’s Board of Adjustment.

This isn’t the first time the City of Wilmington has forgiven fines for violators of the tree policy. Since 2016 the city has issued more than $100,000 worth of fines — it has collected less than 10% of that.

Related: To cut down Wilmington trees, asking forgiveness appears easier than getting permission

Oftentimes the city works with landowners who cut trees without permission to find a solution to the violation. Most times, this includes simply requiring new trees to be planted in lieu of the trees removed.

“As you can see, in most cases, fees were waived if trees were replanted, which is the city’s primary goal,” former City of Wilmington Spokeswoman Malissa Talbert said earlier this year.

While this seems to be a solution to the main problem, the question remains as to why the city even bothers with imposing fines if they so often forgive them.

Mayor Bill Saffo has previously stated that the city’s strong tree ordinance and fines for violating it are a deterrence, but as seen time and time again, the odds of the city enforcing their fines are less than 10%.

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