Breck to put teeth into tree-cutting ordinance |

Breck to put teeth into tree-cutting ordinance

BRECKENRIDGE – The Breckenridge Town Council is considering changes to the town code that will specifically address tree removal procedures and implement punishments for those who violate the ordinance.

The issue came to a head after a Goldflake subdivision resident cut down nine old-growth trees to improve the views from the house. More recently, a Warrior’s Mark man was fined $5,000 and ordered to plant 54 new trees after he illegally cut down trees on U.S. Forest Service land adjacent to his house. And town officials also are trying to unravel events surrounding the alleged death and subsequent removal of trees on a parcel in the historic district.

It is illegal to cut down trees in Breckenridge. That ordinance was designed to screen houses on the hillside from the valley below to preserve the mountain character of the area.

The proposed plan would not only require people to obtain permits to remove trees, but on larger parcels, could require forest management plans to ensure the health of trees in the area.

The tree removal ordinance, as presented at an Aug. 24 town council worksession, would also address the removal of shrubbery and other smaller plants. Town council members, however, said that might be going too far, and joked that eventually, people could be required to get a permit to cut their lawn or weed flower gardens.

The proposed ordinance could result in a lot of debate in upcoming months as residents become educated about how to protect their homes from wildfires, while at the same time, the town tries to keep as many trees in the ground as possible.

Fire mitigation typically involves thinning trees near a house, along with other preventive measures such as clearing rain gutters of pine needles and removing flammable material from decks and outbuildings.

Most homes in town are considered to be low-risk because of their proximity to water supplies, fire stations and hydrants.

How extensive fire mitigation is depends on several factors, including the slope of the land, the density of trees and shrubs on the land, how close the home is to fire hydrants and how quickly fire apparatus can get to the area. The town might have to make exceptions for residences that abut open space and national forests and allow homeowners to do more extensive fire mitigation than that done to homes closer to town.

“We recognize that many of these properties, if allowed to remove trees, would have an impact on the ridgeline from the valley floor,” said town planner Jenn Cram. “We don’t recommend fire mitigation on these properties be mandatory, as it is in the county, but merely provide a standard for a more critical review and mitigation measures.”

Under the proposed ordinance, applicants would be required to submit a statement outlining the reason for removing the trees, and in some cases, provide a survey of the location, species and sizes of trees and other plants on the property.

The most difficult part of the ordinance, however, could prove to be dealing with punishment for those who don’t abide by it.

As written, the proposed ordinance would require people who illegally cut down trees to replace the trees and pay the town a fine equal to the retail cost of the trees plus 15 percent for administrative costs.

Some council members, however, wondered if that punishment is enough to deter people from forging ahead and cutting down trees. In many cases, the increased value of a residence after trees are cleared to improve a view far outweighs the fines someone might have to pay.

Town Attorney Tim Berry is working to figure out how to word that section of the proposed ordinance to put more teeth in it, both to punish violators and deter others.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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