Town leaders want to increase the fine for tampering with protected trees after they say several were illegally removed behind a south Cary apartment complex.
On April 25, Cary staff levied a fine of $70,184 to the owners of Amberwood Apartments, a 20-year-old complex at the corner of Piney Plains Road and southeast Cary Parkway.
The number of trees and shrubs removed remains unclear.
Tree buffers are used to separate properties from each other and sometimes from busy roads.
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Cary fines violators $2 to $4 per square foot based on the amount of damage documented. The town alleges that 17,546 square feet of vegetation was damaged or cleared at Amberwood some time in early April.
“Trees and buffers are something the community values,” said Jeff Ulma, Cary’s planning director. “The ordinance makes it clear that this is not something we take lightly.”
Amberwood can appeal the violation within 30 days of receiving it, Ulma added.
Otherwise, the property owners must pay the fine by the end of May and work with the town to revegetate the area by the end of October, he said.
Tarynn Minegar, Amberwood’s property manager, said in an email that the company is “disappointed in the report, especially because we feel it contains inaccuracies.”
“We take great pride in the aesthetics of our community,” Minegar wrote. “We’ll continue to explore our legal options and look forward to an amicable solution for all parties.”
Minegar didn’t say why the trees were removed.
“I can say that we feel that anything that we did improved the area for all concerned, including the citizens of the town of Cary,” she said.
Rob Wilson, a Cary planner, wrote in the violation notice that Amberwood managers apparently removed the trees to make the apartments more appealing.
“During my discussion with the onsite managers, they admitted to authorizing the Disturbance, showed no concern for the violation of the Town’s ordinances, and instead indicated the purpose of the Disturbance was to facilitate fully leasing the units in the apartment complex,” the notice says.
Now council members want to “send a message” to future violators.
Without suggesting any specifics, the council on April 24 asked town staff to draft a new structure for higher fines.
“To most folks in Cary, the value of a mature tree is darn near priceless,” Councilman Don Frantz said. “I would like to see a fine structure that at least reflects that sentiment.”
“Something needs to be done to stop this type of thing,” Councilwoman Lori Bush added.
Councilman Jack Smith, who represents that part of town, said the Amberwood case was the most “egregious and outrageous” violation of “decency” he’s seen.
“On one weekend – one weekend – massive equipment came in, destroyed champion trees, totally denuded the bush and then ground the stumps 12 inches down so you couldn’t take inventory of where the damage was done,” Smith said.
He continued: “If that’s the future of the kind of people that are going to invest in Cary, I want them to feel the wrath of Cary citizens and the town of Cary.”