Fort Worth

Homebuilder facing $1.5M fine for clearing too many trees from forest for development

In one of the most egregious violations of Fort Worth's tree preservation ordinance since it was enacted in 2009, Arlington-based D.R. Horton, the nation’s largest homebuilder, faces a nearly $1.5 million fine for clearing out more trees in a 51.5-acre forest in east Fort Worth than it was supposed to.

Horton is building a 219-home development at Randol Mill Road just north of John T. White Boulevard called Trinity Oaks. According to its website, the development will feature its Express brand, homes targeted to first-time buyers. Crews are working at the site, but home construction can't begin until this case is resolved.

The company is asking the city's Urban Design Commission to forgive it for what officials said was a contractor's mistake. Horton is asking for a waiver to retain less than the required 25 percent of existing canopy. The site started with 90 percent canopy coverage, now down to 20.7 percent.

D.R. Horton issued a statement Thursday saying they "regret the miscommunication that resulted in the removal of excess trees in the Trinity Oaks development, and we are committed to working with the city to rectify the situation."

The commission is scheduled to hear the case at 10 a.m. Feb. 22 at City Hall, 200 Texas St.. The case was not heard at the December and January meetings because of a lack of quorum.

The affected site is part of the East Cross Timbers of the 26,000-square-mile Cross Timbers Forest Ecosystem. The site had mostly indigenous post and blackjack oaks, some that were likely more than 100 years old.

“A total of 113 significant trees were identified on the subject site,” according to a city staff report.

City staff is asking the commission to deny the waiver and require Horton to plant trees or impose sanctions. Post and blackjack oaks are not commercially available and would have to be replaced with something not native to the site.

The city's tree ordinance was adopted, in part, to protect those varieties of oak trees mostly found on the city's east side.

Horton had an urban forestry plan approved by the city in March 2016, but by that August the majority of the site had been cleared and graded, the report said. The city received a complaint last March.

Horton said “the loss was due to an error by the grading contractor,” the report said.

In January, Horton told Wall Street analysts the company expects its 2018 revenues to reach $16.3 billion.

City staff has offered six sanction options. If Horton brings the canopy back above the 25 percent minimum, it would not be fined, but if the company does nothing, it should pay $1.5 million to the city's tree fund.

The city is asking the commission to “take into account (Horton’s) initial unwillingness to meet ordinance requirements" and wants Horton to be required to maintain a tree inventory, including recording how healthy they are.

Sandra Baker: 817-390-7727, @SandraBakerFWST