Shared from the 1/27/2022 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Dallas should revise tree-cutting rules

Neighbors lament century-old oaks felled for residential development, but ‘massacre’ appears to be within the law

Shafkat Anowar / Dallas Morning News

Chopped trees lie around St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dallas. The church sold the property to Trammell Crow Residential, which plans a 384-unit apartment complex.

DALLAS — The shroud of construction fencing can’t hide the massacre at 5100 Ross Ave. — a fresh graveyard of 14 chopped-down majestic live oaks that for more than a century graced this pocket of East Dallas.

The axing, adjacent to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral and done in the name of — you guessed it — development’s onward march, isn’t done: The church expects that at least 10 more of these beauties will be hacked down, little more than firewood for neighbors to drag away.

“It’s rather upsetting and painful to see such a sight,” Bob Jones, a St. Matthew’s parishioner for all 69 years of his life, told me after we surveyed this sorry spectacle. “It’s like going out on a battlefield and everyone’s lying there dead.”

These were trees older than the historic church itself, which relocated here almost 100 years ago. Trees too big to encircle with a hug. Trees that were part of the already-too-scarce canopy of green so vital to saving our fragile air.

The clearcutting off Ross Avenue is hardly unique in a city that has always lacked adequate ordinances to protect its most precious natural resources.

You can’t miss the dismembered remains of these live oaks. Invisible is what led to this scene on the 4 acres that St. Matthew’s sold to Trammell Crow Residential last year for $8 million.

“Our other choice was to see the trees and not be able to pay the church’s bills,” St. Matthew’s senior warden, David Pinson, told me.

The same reality has hobbled so many places of worship — an aging congregation and financial challenges at a time when expanded services are desperately needed.

The church finally settled on a deal with Crow Residential, which — after getting City Hall’s OK — is downing about 25 trees that stand in the way of its 384-unit Alexan Cathedral Arts apartment project.

No one wanted to see those trees come down, said Pinson, one of the leaders in the final agreement. “We looked at all the options and this was the only one that would work.”

Pinson said the sale of the land also will allow the church to bring important ministries to East Dallas, renovate and update its historic facilities and provide a much-needed early childcare program.

The cost was the sacrifice of the church’s beloved tree-canopied green space, where neighbors walked their dogs and St. Matthew’s occasionally conducted outdoor services or set up its autumn pumpkin patch.

Once the large apartment complex is completed, the only remnants of those mighty live oaks will be the benches recycled from their trunks to be used for the church’s outdoor stations of the cross.

Matt Enzler, a senior managing director at Crow Residential, said his team is just as sorry as the rest of us to cut down the trees, but they couldn’t be saved “for a viable development.”

Enzler said Crow Residential worked with City Hall to get the necessary approval for the removal, replacement and mediation of the trees. The plan requires the planting of 78 new trees, all from the city’s “approved replacement” list, Enzler said.

Crow Residential also will pay about $200,000 into the city’s so-called “reforestation fund.”

It will be a long time before any new trees can adequately replace the good that the old-growth live oaks did: Absorbing tons of airborne pollutants and mitigating surrounding heat islands, those expanses of concrete that trap hot air in the summer.

Each time I’ve visited the site in the last week, dog-walking neighbors and those who stopped after glimpsing the devastation, asked me, “Who do I call to complain to?”

I encouraged them to call their City Council member. But what happened appears perfectly legal. Everyone involved seems to have played by the rules as they are written.

But are they the right rules?

How about if the City Council ensures this epitaph for those destroyed live oaks: Stricter rules that give trees more of a fighting chance?

That starts with taking a fresh look at the 2018 amendments to the city’s landscape and tree conservation regulations — changes that started with good intentions but ended up way too watered down by developer-driven compromises.

Bob Jones, the longtime church member whom I met while counting stumps at St. Matthew’s Friday, kept falling back on the word “heartbreaking” to describe the shorn property.

“Churches can be easy pickings for developers when they find a big plot and a church that needs money,” Jones said.

Grigsby is Metro columnist at the Dallas Morning News.

See this article in the e-Edition Here
Edit Privacy