Canton Twp. brothers fined $460K for removing trees on their own land

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They intended to create a Christmas tree farm on their Canton Township plot, but now two brothers may be responsible for more than $450,000.

The township said the men illegally cut down 1,400 trees on their own property. It is now re-plant - or pay up.

"We have 1,000 northeast spruces that we put in right now," said Matt Percy. 

A few inches above the fresh soil on 16 acres tucked in behind industrial property in Canton Township is the makings of a Christmas tree farm. The plan is to give away the trees once they mature. 

It is a noble, but now costly endeavor. 

"It's 468,000," Percy said.

That's the price - nearly a half million dollars for clearing the land without a permit from Canton Township. 

"They were told in writing at least two occasions that if they were going to cut down any trees, they had to submit a plan and get a tree removal permit," said Kristen Kolb, Canton Twp. attorney. "They did neither of those things."

Canton Township has a tree ordinance. 

"We're not against the tree ordinance it's for parks and subdivisions and things of that nature," Percy said.

The policy is that if you cut down a tree you pay for it, or replace it. 
The Percy brothers who own the property say they were aware of the tree ordinance before they cleared the land, but they were also aware of an exception if the land is used for farming. 

"You can take trees off a property and farm it," Percy said. "That is basically what we did."

But that is not how the township sees it. 

"That exemption would be for an existing farm operation," Kolb said.

But they can replace the trees on the property instead, just not with Christmas trees. 

"The ordinance requires the replacement trees be of a similar type to the ones that were removed and there is a minimum size the trees have to be," Kolb said.

That figure, 460,000 had to be estimated by looking at the remaining forest and calculating it over 16 acres. 
The township says the property owners were notified twice in writing to get the permits and never did. The owners say because they were planning on farming they didn't think they had to. 

Both sides say they firmly rooted in their decision and willing to argue in court if needed.