The First Colony Community Association in Sugar Land is cutting down trees in neighborhoods and residents don’t like it.
Residents said they understand the need to thin the selection, but with plans to cut half, and in some cases more than half, the inventory of live oak trees, protestors claim the association is “clear cutting not thinning” the trees and ignoring the wishes of residents.
They were also up in arms over the age of the trees being cut; some were told the trees were over 50 years old.
“They are not 50 years old. First Colony is 40 years old and so the oldest tree will be less than 40 years old,” said the association Executive Director Cary Kelley.
The association represents 11,000 residents and 400 commercial properties.
Kelley said the trees were over-planted with less than 25 feet of space between them.
“We did a thorough study of the issues in 2014 with town hall meetings, worked with several consultants,” he said. “Every master certified arborist said you need to remove the trees.”
Tree removals occurred or will occur on Palm Royale Boulevard, Cartwright, Austin Parkway, Sweetwater, DuPont Circle in Sweetwater and First Colony Boulevard.
The problem is that the live oak trees have a shallow root bases so the trees were sucking away all the nutrients and nothing could grow at their base resulting in mud and dirt sliding off into the streets and clogging the drains, according to Kelley.
“A healthy tree will have a nice thick body and their canopies are like fans. These are so close together they are all struggling for sunlight. They are just overcrowded,” Kelley said.
Not everyone is thrilled.
“That’s not thinning, that’s clear-cutting,” said Sara Parr of DuPont Circle.
DuPont Circle has 80 live oak trees and the tree cutters marked every tree on the outer rim, which is between the street and the sidewalk. They planned to cut 54 of the 80 trees. The initial pilot program said they would take less than half the trees from the Sweetwater neighborhood.
So 85 percent of the families living on DuPont signed and submitted a petition on January 19 asking the association to slow down since there were concerns and a board meeting was scheduled for Jan. 25, said Parr.
Kelley balked at waiting until the board meeting saying residents have known about this for a while because it is the third step in a five-step program. The tree-cutting started as scheduled on Jan. 22.
Parr was out of state at the time for business, but she left a letter to be read at the meeting.
“I also want everyone to know that I asked Carey Kelley to delay any action of tree cutting and removal until the FCCA board meeting today. But he said, ‘He sees no need to delay the cutting of the trees, starting Monday.’ Many of us are outraged and shocked at the blatant lack of care or respect for the residents that live in here. It was obvious that Kelley did not want the residents to take this issue to the FCCA board,” Parr wrote.
After learning of the petition, Kelley said the staff from FCCA walked the area and redesigned to have 49 trees cut down.
“I got an email with less than 10 property owners from one neighborhood asking to postpone and they want the board to explain why they approved this plan. But all the info and publications and newsletters, phone APPs, Facebook, all the info been out there since 2014 and every budget cycle we update,” Kelley said.
He said they have contracted to get the work done in the off-season.
The removal work will be followed by stump and root grinding. The site will continue to be monitored to see if any additional work makes sense over the next year or so.
“Follow up work will include irrigation repair and realignment, sod work, and the removal of at least some of the crape myrtles. Trees and vegetation will, of course, be fertilized to help their recovery,” he said.
Kelley said the tree canopies are currently misshapen because of over-planting and that would change in time.
“Our goal is to improve the look and health of the remaining trees while addressing the siltation, and reduce leaf/acorn drop that have made the sidewalks slippery and clogged the street drains and caused road flooding. The tree removals will enable us to improve the ground cover, which reduces siltation. Our removal work in other areas of First Colony have been quite successful and the areas look great. We will keep the neighborhood rep’s advised about upcoming work.” Kelley wrote in an email to the residents.
He said Edgewater was the test site and they removed 20 trees. The following year they showed how it improved, and removed the remainder, close to 80 trees.
“We are contracted to get the work done in the off-season. We got an amazing price point doing that, saving the association hundreds of dollars,” he said.
Rachel Varghese, who also lives on DuPoint, said residents were given three minutes to speak at the board meeting and multiple voices expressed the same concern – don’t take our trees. In the end there was no delay. She left the meeting feeling dejected because so many residents felt their words did not matter.
“A Plantation Bend resident who came to oppose the clearing agreed that wanting to thin out a small number of trees, if necessary, is understandable. But to slash and destroy all the trees in a row is irresponsible. Why the rush, why can we not discuss this,” the resident asked.
Kelley said there were complaints in other neighborhoods at the time.
“But those with concerns came back and said it looks great. These are emotional issues,” he said.
Varghese said the tree removal is “beyond an emotional issue. It is a monetary issue that significantly affects our property value in the long run. It destroys bird and animal habitat and what makes our older neighborhood valuable. It also affects the air quality of our city,” she said.
The DuPont residents recommended that they follow the approved pilot and try cutting fewer trees leaving the large healthy ones alone and only cutting damaged or weak trees.
“The crepe myrtles are an eyesore and can be removed completely. No one prefers them to the live oaks. If anyone thinks that the residents of First Colony are happy with the massive removal of trees, they are, unfortunately, delusional,” said Varghese.