Owner: Trees were fire hazard
along busy Westlake Drive because he was afraid stray sparks or a discarded cigarette could ignite a wildfire.
“It was a fire hazard,” Attal said. “I didn’t think I needed to get anyone to come and tell me if I could or couldn’t take out some dead cedar trees. If I’d known I needed to get a dead cedar tree removal permit, I would have gone and done it.”
As his tree crews were working in April, city officials arrived to stop the removal and so began a process that has dragged on for months and divided city residents.
The combined diameter of all the cut trees was 338 inches, according to the city arborist’s report. The city wants Attal to replace them with an equivalent amount of junipers. If not, the city has threatened a lawsuit and criminal penalties of up to $2,000 per tree.
Attal said he wants to replace only 200 diameter inches, and he contends that would more than fully restore what was removed.
The city based its figures on the number of stumps, said City Administrator Robert Wood. And the city has evidence that the trees were alive, he said.
Attal said many of the stumps were there before he moved in. He estimated that it would cost more than $100,000 to replace that many junipers and said he might have to rip out $40,000 worth of new trees and landscaping to do it.
Attal’s attorney, Luis Reyes, said what the city is asking is overreaching and not in line with the city’s code.
Attal has characterized the city’s conduct as “a witch hunt” and said he believes he is being made an example to deter other residents from removing trees.
“That can sometimes be a result of this kind of action, but we’re just trying to restore what was there and enforce the rules that have been laid out for us by the residents,” Wood said.
The decision on whether to pursue a lawsuit and criminal charges against Attal will come before the West Lake Hills City Council at its Wednesday meeting.