CANTON TWP., MI -- Brothers Gary and Matt Percy could face nearly half a million dollars in penalties for removing more than 1,400 trees from their property without permission from Canton Township.
The two own a 16-acre property off of Yost Road, east of Belleville Road in Canton Township with the intention of creating a Christmas tree farm on the plot, according to their attorney, Michael J. Pattwell.
The land was filled with "invasive plants like phragmites, buckthorn and autumn olive," he said.
But the township requires land owners to gain permission and promise new tree plantings before cutting down existing forestry, especially for landmark or historic trees.
Canton Township defines 'trees' as 'any woody plant with at least one well-defined stem and having a minimum diameter at breast height of three inches.' The Percy parcel was used historically by a local farmer for dairy pasture, so much of the vegetation on the parcel was invasive buckthorn, scrub brush and dead ash trees."
The Percy brothers believed they were exercising a state and local exemption for farming when they cleared the land, but city officials arrived on-site and signaled immediately their intention to levy big fines in excess of $700,000," Pattwell said. "But that's not what this case is about. We are talking here about a parcel of former pasture land surrounded entirely by industrial activity.
"This case is about misguided overreach. It is unavoidably about whether people who own property are allowed to use it ... We contend the Percy brothers exercised a farming exemption in the local tree removal law to clear the historic pasture behind their business and develop a Christmas tree farm."