Canton Township brothers fined $550,000 for cutting down trees on their own property

Brothers want to start Christmas tree farm

By Jason Colthorp - Anchor/Reporter, Derick Hutchinson

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Two brothers in Canton Township are fighting heavy fines for removing trees on their own property.

Matt and Gary Percy didn't get required permits to remove trees from a piece of property that's surrounded by an industrial park. They thought they could use a farming exemption because of how they want to use the land, but a township lawsuit alleges they were wrong.

"There's an injunction that we cannot touch the property," Matt Percy said. "Yes, it's our property."

The brothers want to start a Christmas tree farm on the property behind the trucking business they've owned for 30 years off of Belleville Road.

"It's just been a nightmare for us," Matt Percy said.

The nightmare is the legal battle that began after they clear-cut the property.

"There were dead ash trees, cottonwoods and buckthorn and invasive trees -- diseases too," Matt Percy said. "It was almost a benefit to take these down, in that respect."

The township sent out an arborist, who determined the tree ordinance had been violated. The township said it would settle for $450,000.

The Percys refused, and now Canton Township is suing.

"I think it's unjust, unfair, unscientific," Matt Percy said. "I think it is undemocratic in every sense that you own the property, you own the trees, but then you get fined for taking the trees down."

Township officials said it's not a government overreach. They said it's no different than what any developer had to do, which is make a payment to the township's tree fund for not replacing trees.

However, the Percys have already planted 1,000 trees, with plans for 1,500 more.

"We think trees are a big benefit, but for certain ones that (are) invasive, they need to be taken care of," Matt Percy said.

The Percys' lawyers have to respond to the lawsuit by Friday, but there's a bill in the state Senate that could make the entire case moot. It would basically exempt industrial areas from such tree ordinances.

The bill made it out of committee Wednesday and is expected to be resolved one way or another in the lame duck session before the end of the year.

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