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Business Says Tree-Pruning Fine Cuts Too Deep

Smithfield's Chicken N Bar-B-Q in Raleigh said it was trying to eliminate unsightly brown branches when it had a landscaper trim some of its trees.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A Raleigh business is facing a $17,000 fine for what the city says was over-pruning its trees.

The city said a landscaping company went too far on a job, and Smithfield’s Chicken N Bar-B-Q should pay. The restaurant said the fine amounts to a month’s profit, and the owners are appealing.

The owners said they were trying to make the restaurant on Jones Sausage Road look nice after employees noticed some limbs were browning among the nearly 40 trees on the property. They said they did not even know the city had an ordinance governing pruning.

“I think we do a fantastic job on keeping our landscaping nice and neat,” manager Scott Booe said.

The city disagreed.

"$17,000 — it's a lot to deal with,” Booe said. “I mean, that is your bottom line for a month."

City inspectors said the cuts to the trees hurt branch formation and bud placement.

The inspector who cited Smithfield's told WRAL that as many as a dozen of these fines can go out to businesses in a month. One business was ticketed $50,000, he said.

"Over trees, over trees — something as minor as trees," Booe said.

Smithfield’s attorneys argued to the Raleigh Board of Adjustment that they had no clue the ordinance existed and that the fine was too high.

The board continued the case for 30 days, and a deputy city attorney told the board she thinks the city can come to a compromise with Smithfield's owners.

City inspectors noted that homeowners could be fined if their properties are 2 acres or larger and they improperly prune trees within a city street right-of-way — but that has never happened.


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