From front page of the Sunday Express-News:
When the City Council approved San Antonio’s first tree-preservation ordinance in 1997, there was no question the rules applied to real estate developers.
But what happens when a property owner claims he’s not a developer, and hundreds of acres of trees are bulldozed on his land as part of a ranching operation?
In the case of Hugo Gutierrez Jr., the answer is: nothing. The tree ordinance didn’t apply to him — and it might not apply to developers who try the same thing.
The case highlights a potential loophole in the preservation standards that can be used by other real estate developers, many of whom criticize the city’s rules as excessive and expensive.
Environmentalists complain San Antonio’s tree canopy is rapidly disappearing. They said Gutierrez’s case illustrates a way around the city tree ordinance, which requires developers to save trees and pay mitigation costs.
As if the state legislature hasn't hobbled local communities enough with the vast loopholes that fit under "vested rights." Read on for the gory details, and plenty of them.
The response today, from Mayor Phil Hardberger:
"My suggestion of what we'll do, and I intend to talk to our City Council about it, is that we create, by ordinance, a provision that when an agricultural property is cleared of trees, and then sold to a developer, then that becomes a taxable event. So that you have to pay the mitigation damages. Because it's no longer being used for agricultural land."
Hardberger acknowledged his proposal will be challenged in court by the real estate community.
"It's certainly possible it will be challenged," the mayor said. "I would anticipate it would be challenged because it's a pretty sweet deal now."
Hardberger said he will also ask Bexar County legislators to write a bill that would amend Texas law to help the city's cause.
"I doubt when the Legislature was trying to protect agricultural land, I doubt if they envisioned that (ranchers will) clear all the trees and sell it to a developer. That probably was not envisioned. I think there will be legislators who will be willing to close that loophole."
Hardberger said he will also direct lobbyists who represent the city to support such legislation.
"One thing I'm not going to do is just to sit here for the last year of office and watch trees be cleared on a grand scale and feel like there's nothing we can do but wring our hands," Hardberger said. "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to take action."
Will the Legislature block any attempts to rein in the bad practices of real estate developers yet again?