Private property

Two Brothers Want to Start a Christmas Tree Farm on Their Own Land. The Township Might Fine Them $450,000.

Gary and Matt Percy had to clear their land before they started planting. They neglected to get the government's permission.

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Valariej/Dreamstime.com

Two brothers might have to cough up $450,000 payable to Canton Township, Michigan. Their infraction: daring to cut down trees on their own private property.

Gary and Matt Percy own and operate two businesses in the state: a trucking company and a tree specialization company. They planned to start a Christmas tree farm on a 16-acre piece of land they own in Canton Township.

But to do that, they needed to cut down more than 1,400 existing trees. And for good reason, their attorney, Michael J. Pattwell, told MLive.com. The property was ravaged by "invasive plants like phragmites, buckthorn and autumn olive," he said.

It's not like the brothers cleared the area without replacing the trees they cut down. They planned to put 2,500 Christmas trees into the ground, about 1,000 of which have already been planted.

Unfortunately for the Percys, a township ordinance prohibits landowners from cutting down trees without the government's permission. Watchdog.org reports:

The township defines a tree as a woody plant with a defined stem of at least three inches in diameter at chest height. Because the township does not know the exact number of trees removed, it hired an arborist to examine the make-up of trees on an adjacent property to estimate what trees were on the Percy brothers' property before they removed them. In a settlement offer, the township proposed fines of about $450,000 for the removal of what it claims is slightly less than 1,500 trees, including 100 landmark or historic trees.

Pattwell told MLive.com that the township's approval "may be obtained by either payment into the township's so-called tree fund or on-site replacement with trees of certain designated trunk diameters." If the brothers do both of those things, their fines can be reduced by about $70,000, he told Watchdog.org.

But Pattwell claims this clients didn't do anything wrong in the first place. For one thing, he says much of what the township defined as trees was actually invasive vegetation. Moreover, the adjacent property examined by the township's arborist has a "different land history and distinguishable characteristics" from the Percy brothers' land, he told MLive.com.

Finally, the brothers believed they were eligible for an exemption under the ordinance. According to that exemption, "agricultural/farming" and "commercial nursery/tree farm operations" don't have to receive government approval before clearing trees on private property.

Township attorney Kristin Kolb, meanwhile, told MLive.com that the brothers were warned "at least twice" they needed a permit, but they "never came and got one."

Pattwell believes the case is an example of "misguided overreach" by the government. "It is unavoidably about whether people who own property are allowed to use it," he told MLive.com.

He's right. Reason's Ronald Bailey has pointed out in the past that locals do a much better job of protecting forests than the government. The Percy brothers may have been cutting down trees, but only so they could plant new ones in their stead. And Pattwell certainly makes it sound like they weren't even in violation of the township ordinance.

But the larger issue at play here is the government infringing on property rights. The land in question doesn't belong to the township; it's private property owned by the Percy brothers. Whatever they decide to do with said land is their choice, not the government's.

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  1. Feels like a headline written by sarcasmic.

    1. Sarcasmic doesnt do sarcasm.

      He does trolling really good.

      1. Shorter lc: Durrr durrr durrrrr

        1. Durrr durrr durrrr MAGA?

        2. “sarcasmic|10.23.18 @ 11:20AM|#

          Shorter lc: Durrr durrr durrrrr”

          Don’t let him get to you like that sarc.

          1. The trolls like Sarcasmic cannot help themselves.

    2. Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders.

    3. Freedom is free.

      Never any hardship to maintain it.

      -Somebody who is not sarcastic

  2. Is Claire Wolfe wrong yet?

    1. Been wrong for 2+ decades.

  3. Why can’t government just leaves them alone?

    1. It’s a Christmas Tree farm, they’re going to needle them to death.

      Wait, let me start again.

      *ahem*

      It’s a Christmas Tree farm, they’re going to punish them needlelessly.

      1. Now you’re going out on a limb!

        1. Your jokes are starting to grow on me.

      2. That’s ‘holiday’ tree farm!

        1. Veterans Day trees for everyone!

    2. Whats brown and all sticky?

      1. The stuff between your ears.

          1. Sarcasmic is not mad. He has just fully embraced the inner troll.

      2. A stick!

    3. pining. always pining for our green

      1. What a sappy joke.

  4. The land in question doesn’t belong to the township

    If they levy any taxes on it, they are part owner along with the county and state.

    1. If you want to find out who owns your land, stop paying your taxes.

      1. ^this

      2. It’s called a perpetual lien because it remains into perpetuity.

  5. Next step? Make it illegal to mow the lawn without government permission.

    1. They’re way ahead of you.
      You’re required to have a lawn, specifically a lawn that complies with their rules.
      You are required to maintain the lawn which, among other things, amounts to a requirement that the lawn not be permitted to be shorter than x” nor taller than y”.

      1. You shall be required by law to keep it green.
        You shall be forbidden by law from watering it.

  6. Make the town officials listen to Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song on continuous loop until they relent.

  7. $28,000 per acre in fines….

    Uh, exactly how much does scrub forest land go for in that part of the country? That sounds like 10x the cost of the land, before “improvements” of clearing the land.

    1. Improvements that the township will obviously tax.

    2. Uh, exactly how much does scrub forest land go for in that part of the country? That sounds like 10x the cost of the land, before “improvements” of clearing the land.

      It was before Joe’s time, so I can forgive him for not minding Reason’s policy of avoiding exceedingly local stories.

      But it’s pretty clear that somebody in the township has a grudge for some reason and we don’t get to know why. The brothers already operate two businesses in the township, one was already an ‘tree specialization company’, so they couldn’t have been ignorant of the ordinance. The estimates of ‘landmark trees’ is almost certainly inflated. That said, presumably this isn’t some faceless bureaucrat scanning over satellite photos. It seems exceedingly likely that they know the person who set the process to fine them in motion. The fact that they didn’t just grandfather the christmas tree farm in under the pre-existing ‘tree specialization company’ seems amiss too. I suspect there’s more to this story and we’re only getting the ‘victims’ side.

      Not to blame the victims, of course, but for all we know, the township sold it to them in some cronyist arrangement that’s now blown up.

      1. Reason’s policy of avoiding exceedingly local stories.

        Heh… pretty glib jab there….

  8. C’mon now, Joe Seyton. What if the community wants those trees in their neighborhood, so as to enhance their well-being, along with enhancing their property values? You can’t possibly believe that an individual has a right to use his own property as he sees fit without first getting approval from the mob community in which he lives. What if he had hired undocumented labor to cut down the trees? What if he had chosen to use gas-powered polluting chainsaws to cut down the trees? What if he had chosen to pay his employees less than an arbitrary minimum wage, but nonetheless his employees voluntarily agreed to were tricked into accepting such a wage? All of these things impact the community, the state, and the nation as a whole. I mean, can you imagine if these people hired undocumented workers? It would be a magnet for all those illegals to head to Michigan to chop down trees! First they came to chop down trees, next thing you know, they’re raping children while waving Mexican flags! You don’t support child rape, do you? I think it’s time for Reason to come to terms that property rights aren’t absolute and that people like Messrs. Percy just have to accept that their decisions must be subject to the approval of the state, acting in the best interests of the people.

    (/sarc in case you hadn’t figured it out)

    1. You can understand why with you some might not assume sarcasm,I hope.

  9. Also, what kind of township that is this far up everyone’s behind with permits and zoning doesn’t have periodic photo surveys.

    Around here they shoot aerial pictures of all of the property and use it to look for things like unpermitted construction and trees being removed without permit. That’s why you see a flurry of tree cutting after every hurricane… Rather than go through a risky and possibly expensive permit process, you just say it was damaged in the storm and put it out by the curb before anyone knows the difference.

  10. Township attorney Kristin Kolb, meanwhile, told MLive.com that the brothers were warned “at least twice” they needed a permit, but they “never came and got one.”

    The absurdity of it.

  11. Nobody in America owns real property. You rent it from the people who send you your property tax bill. They tell you what you can and cannot do with their property.

    1. My woman’s parents own about a dozen acres or so in rural Louisiana and the pay zero property taxes on it, so maybe they really own it, but I can’t really say. But, the parish can still tell them what to do with their property for the most part, so maybe not.

  12. We are becoming like the modern Germans!

    In many German towns and cities, it is illegal to cut down your own tree, w/o Government Almighty permission… Unless the tree has died! So people have learned, drive a few copper nails into the tree, and it will die within a year. So, de facto, per German micro-management, you must slowly torture you tree to death, and THEN you may cut it down! (No word to be had on whether killing your tree with Zyklon B gas is OK, or not).

    Could the tree farmers have slowly killed all of their trees first, and THEN legally cut them down?

    Copper nails kill trees; see http://www.hunker.com/13424362…..pper-nails

    1. Yes, in Scotland a farmer can’t trim his hedges before Sept. in order to protect the habitat of rodents, birds, and foxes.

  13. can there be a trial? please go to trial. have a jury tell that township to fuck itself

    “township”

    1. Not bloody likely in Canton.
      White upper-middle class ‘conservative’ enclave, hotbed of cronyism.
      Look into the history of the siting of SE Michigan’s IKEA store.

      1. you’d think they’d want special Christmas trees

        1. It’s an industrial park. IMO, the more relevant part is ‘hotbed of cronyism’. The question is are the brothers in on it and just didn’t pay the right people or are they completely clean and just didn’t pay the right people?

          1. certainly Kristin Kolb did not get hers.

    2. They need one of these.

      1. exactly.

  14. This township needs an enema.

  15. What? No woodchipper jokes?

    1. Running township officials through the woodchipper ain’t no joke, son.

  16. Mentioned in the original MLive article, the land in question is zoned HEAVY INDUSTRIAL, so you can see how trees figure into that.

  17. Whatever they decide to do with said land is their choice, not the government’s.

    1. Whatever they decide to do with said land is their choice, not the government’s.

      You must be new around here.

      Damn squirrels …

  18. I don’t care what permits they needed or which regulations they violated: Anyone who kills phragmites is doing God’s Work.

  19. This is amazing to see a Christmas Tree Farm like that. I just wish both of them a Merry Christmas and all the best for their Christmas Tree Farm Plan.
    https://merrychristmaswishes.com

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