Evan Hardin, of 680 Mountain Way, said his neighbor removed the trees from his property line while building a house on land adjacent to his property.
Together, the two property owners, Hardin and Jayu Momaya, were hit with a combined $93,960 in penalties from the city of Atlanta for removing trees illegally.
Momaya, who owns the land at 688 Mountain Way, was charged $41,190. On April 27, the Tree Conservation Commission denied Momaya’s appeal of the fine.
Attempts to reach Momaya for comment for this article were not successful.
Hardin has appealed his penalty of $52,770. The Tree Conservation Committee will hear his appeal June 15, said Kathy Evans, administrative analyst for the Tree Conservation Commission.
“[Momaya] came in and overdeveloped the property,” Hardin said. “The [city] inspector is supposed to have boundaries clearly identified so the contractor can respect those boundaries. In this case, they were ignored. In this case, both the contractor and the city inspector missed that.”
Hardin said the arborist fined him because the trees that were destroyed happened to be on his property.
“When they walked the property and evaluated everything, they started giving fines,” Hardin said. “Even though trespassing was clear and who did it was clear.”
Hardin said he will take legal action against Momaya and the city of Atlanta if his appeal is unsuccessful.
Evans said city officials believed initially that the trees were removed from one parcel.
“I think originally it was levied at a higher amount and then they realized it crossed property boundaries,” Evans said. “It was broken up into the separate owners of each property. It seemed to be one site when the arborist went out.”
The city did grant Momaya a permit to remove some trees on the property.
“There were some trees approved for removal for construction purposes. A large number were also removed in excess,” Evans said.
Evans said there is a fee for cutting down trees, even if it is approved by the arborist.
“There’s a recompense fee that applies to tree removal. … If they’re removed illegally, it’s $500 for the first tree and $1,000 per tree thereafter,” Evans said.
The penalties levied on the Mountain Way property owners are not typical, Evans said.
“I don’t think we very commonly see this many removed that were not approved,” Evans said. “Builders and people in the construction industry are aware. They are typically able to build in those costs of recompense or replacement upfront and try to stay within that plan. If they find conditions change they can always come in and revise the plans.”
Evans said people are encouraged to plant trees when they receive a permit for tree removal. But if they are unable to plant enough trees to offset the number that were destroyed, they pay a recompense fee to the city.
“All of the fines and fees go into a tree trust fund which is used for planting and maintaining trees in the city of Atlanta,” Evans said.
The fines can be issued to either the contractor or the owner of the property when trees are removed, Evans said.
“Certainly if the property owner has an explanation that’s different, they have an opportunity to make that known at the Tree Conservation Committee hearing,” Evans said.
Hardin said he feels as though he has to prove his innocence rather than guilt when it comes to removing the fine.
“You’re sitting at your house and they say, ‘Here’s a $52,000 fine for you,’” Hardin said. “They don’t even show you a document. They’ve never conducted a survey. It has nothing to do with my property. If you’re going to throw a fine like that around, you need to be a little more cautious.”
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