Town Council votes to rewrite tree ordinance

A discussion of Church Point's tree ordinance at the Oct. 5 town council meeting led to the council's unanimous vote to rewrite the ordinance.
Ward 4 Councilman Chris LeBas said, in reference to the current ordinance, "We need to burn this and start over."
The meeting was the first regular council meeting open to the public since March when COVID-19 restrictions were announced by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The discussion began when Ward 2 resident Linda Granger addressed a tree on her neighbor's property. Granger said the tree was damaged during a tornado on May 17, and she had contacted Ward 2 Councilman Kim Cormier as well as the town's administration about the tree. Granger said she was concerned about the tree falling on her home or on her neighbors' homes, and she was informed that the item would be on the October council agenda.
Granger cited the town's tree ordinance #030220-4.
"The ordinance states 'In case of grave public emergency, where the condition of the building, which probably should read 'tree' because it's a tree ordinance, is such as to cause possible immediate loss or damage to personal property, the town may remove the tree after 24 hours notice served upon the owner, his agent, occupant or attorney at law appointed to represent the absentee owner,'" Granger said.
Granger said the ordinance also states it is the right of the town to prune, cut and or remove any trees or any parts thereof located on private property when such creates or constitutes a hazard to life or property or when such trees are dead or rotting or harbor insects or disease which constitute a potential threat to the other trees within the town.
During the discussion, Granger stressed that she wanted the tree to be removed as soon as possible, and Mayor Ryan "Spanky" Meche expressed his hesitancy to have town workers enter onto private property without giving the property owner a chance to speak in front of the council.
"It looks like this ordinance can be interpreted two different ways," Meche said. "I interpreted the process (for the town to remove a tree on private property). I'm going to have to look into it more."
The council unanimously agreed to table the discussion of the potential adoption of amendment to tree ordinance #030220-4, clarifying arborist provision.
Town Attorney Lucas Colligan then advised the mayor and council members.
"The purpose of this ordinance was, a least according to the whereas paragraph, to address trees that were growing over sidewalks, public property, streets, things like that," Colligan said. "The ordinance addresses that issue and then for one reason or another moves into this private property realm wherein the town is granted the authority to enter onto private property in order to start cutting trees down. That is fine if that is that is what the council wants to the town to do, but in order to do so, you have got to balance the rights of the neighbor with the rights of the tree owner — the procedures which mimic and track the same procedure for getting rid of abandoned buildings and nuisance buildings and things like that wherein you've go to notify the homeowner and give them an opportunity to come to the council."
Following further discussion by Colligan and the council members, it was agreed the ordinance be rewritten and that in the future, the town only be responsible for removing nuisance trees that are growing over public property including sidewalks and streets.
"The town needs to get out of private property realm," LeBas said.
"A private tree that threatens the private property of another is a dispute amongst neighbors, and they need to be handled in the district court," Colligan added. "If it is a private tree that threatens public property, that indicates a town impact."
The council unanimously approved a motion to amend the agenda to introduce an amendment to tree ordinance and the motion to introduce the amendment that will address the mayor's authority to enter private property and remove trees and clarify the language to provide proper procedure for addressing tree issues.

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