Vested Rights

  • How developers skirt city codes

    Skinner Nurseries property, 2005
    Skinner Nurseries property, 2005
    Skinner Nurseries property, 2009
    Skinner Nurseries property, 2009

    Whenever a real estate developer bulldozes majestic oaks or paves over environmentally sensitive land on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, it’s usually because he has “vested rights.” He’s grandfathered from city codes, and he can do whatever he wants on a property.

    But sometimes trees are cut down not because of vested rights, but because of flaws in the actual ordinance that was intended to protect trees from urban sprawl.

    Here’s my latest story about a flaw I learned about recently in the city’s tree-preservation ordinance. We’ve also published stories here and here about other ways to get around city ordinances.

    The latest method of avoiding the tree ordinance involves a “homeowners exemption.” Lobbyist Ken Brown advised his client, Skinner Nurseries, that it didn’t have to follow city codes that required the company to preserve trees on its 19-acre property. That’s because the rural land had a house on it. The city’s tree ordinance sets no limits on the size of residential properties, so Skinner Nurseries could bulldoze all the trees it wanted — and it did.

    Skinner Nurseries bulldozed the property for — of all things — a tree-nursery business. But a sour economy killed the project after the trees were cut down. No tree-nursery was ever built, and the old house was eventually torn down.