Oak tree cut down without permission, building owner says his intentions are to beautify area
BATON ROUGE - To some it might be a sign of spring, sprucing up landscaping and trimming trees. When one man caught a tree trimmer chopping up a live oak on Florida Boulevard Wednesday morning he was outraged. Sam Irwin says the tree is on public property.
"I'm so frustrated and aggravated," Irwin said.
As the President of the Melrose Place Civic Association, Irwin says he was appalled at what he saw happening in front of Mid City Tower. He approached the person cutting the tree and asked them to stop.
"Those were not his trees to cut down, these trees belong to the public," he said.
Irwin called the city and an inspector came out.
"The city arborist informed the people that own this property - Mid City Tower - that they could not cut this tree down because it did not belong to them," Irwin said.
The city says an arborist met the tree trimmer on scene and informed them they cannot be performing that work without an arborist license, issued by the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and it's against the law to remove trees from public property without a permit.
The damage appears to be done. Irwin says it's a shame to see something like this happen along a busy thoroughfare.
"If we have ignorant property owners that don't see the value in having a fully-grown oak tree it is really frustrating, it makes me sick," he said.
The owner of Mid City Tower, Michael Leggett says that was not his intention. Leggett purchased the building in 2020 and has been fixing it up to make it more appealing to future tenants. He says he has big plans for the building and the surrounding area, which include removing the trees.
"The plan was to take those out, plant new trees but also plant a green space area with a flower bed just to make the area look better than what it does now," Leggett said.
He tells 2 On Your Side he thought the trees were in the servitude, but now it's not clear if they are in the servitude or the right-of-way. The intentions remain the same. Leggett says the trees were diseased and had a lot of wear and tear from power line trimming. Now he says he's aware he needed permission to remove them first.
"We're working with our landscape architect right now on a proposal to bring to the city to try to get those trees removed and try to get some healthy more aesthetically pleasing trees in the area," Leggett said.
That's what Irwin wants - the tree back.
"I'd like to see them replanted with some kind of substantial tree," Irwin said.
Executive Director of Baton Rouge Green Sage Foley says, "It's heartbreaking when a property owner makes this decision on behalf of an entire community with so little thought. These trees take 75 years to mature to this point. They are critical infrastructure. A person can cut them down, destroying that, in less than 75 minutes."
Irwin is hoping to educate the public about how the trees lining Florida Boulevard are not to be tampered with unless permission is granted. Right now, it's not clear if the area is under City-Parish or state jurisdiction.
The city says it's checking to see if a citation or violation will be issued or if it needs to refer the matter to another government agency.
DOTD says it will be inspecting the site soon to determine who the trees belong to. Violators can face fines if found in the wrong. A person needs prior written approval from the state in order to cut or trim trees in the right-of-way of a state highway.
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