Texas House bill threatens local tree protections

The Texas Legislature is again working to diminish the ability of counties, municipalities and community associations to protect the character of cities, towns and neighborhoods across Texas. Preservation Houston is asking its members to write or call their representatives in Austin to oppose House Bill 70, which would overturn local tree ordinances and void existing deed restrictions that protect trees.

With trees, as with historic preservation, the most important protections are local protections. Mature trees are defining characteristics in almost all of Houston's residential historic districts, from the canopy of oaks shading Bayland Avenue in Woodland Heights to the double allées of oaks along North, South and West boulevards in Broadacres.

 Oaks in the North Boulevard esplanade, Broadacres Historic District /  photo by Jim Parsons

Oaks in the North Boulevard esplanade, Broadacres Historic District / photo by Jim Parsons

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett expressed his opposition to the Legislature's actions on KUHF radio on July 11. Citing his own neighborhood, Judge Emmett said, "You know, West University Place has a pretty clear regulation of trees that need to be protected.

"The state somehow seems to think they should come in and make that decision for everybody in the state. I just don’t think that’s right, and I think it flies in the face of conservative principled government,” he said.

HB 70 was filed by Austin-area representative Paul Workman and may be a reaction to Austin's municipal code, which protects specific species of heritage trees that are 24 inches or greater in diameter. Governor Greg Abbott has cited his experience with Austin's tree ordinance when explaining his efforts to eliminate protections statewide. The Texas Tribune has reported that two years before becoming governor, Mr. Abbott grappled with the City of Austin over its request he plant new trees as a condition for removing a heritage pecan tree on his property. 

The introduction of HB 70 is part of a continuing pattern that would allow the Legislature to usurp local authority. Please tell your state representatives that decisions about local measures must remain local.

Click here to find the name and contact information for the state representative for your district. When the bill is referred to committee, Preservation Houston will update its members and let them know if Houston-area representatives serve on that committee.