The Lexington Tree Board is moving toward dramatically increasing the penalty for removing a street tree without a permit.
On Wednesday, the board formed a subcommittee to come up with a fine or range of fines. Currently, a landowner can be fined $75 for taking down any street tree without the city's approval, but that fine seldom is levied. There were discussions among board members of increasing the fine to $1,000 or to the replacement value of the tree, which could be more than $1,000.
After the board decides on a new amount, the change would have to be approved by the Urban County Council.
Tim Queary, the city's urban forester, said that trees "mysteriously disappear" in front of businesses or billboards with some regularity. The $75 fine is not a deterrent if the owner thinks the tree is blocking motorists' views of the business or sign, he said.
The action comes after several trees were cut down in front of a block being redeveloped along Nicholasville Road. The trees had been planted more than a decade ago with public funds.
The tree board also voted Wednesday to write letters to tree services and others that might be called upon to take down trees, spelling out the procedure for obtaining a permit, which is free.