With thousands of LED lights illuminating its branches, the Idaho State Capitol Christmas Tree is a sight to be seen. However, this year’s blue spruce was cut down illegally.
The 2021 Christmas Tree was cut from a residence at 1414 N. Harrison Boulevard in Boise, according to a news release from Governor Brad Little’s office. The release states that the homeowners gladly gave the state permission to cut it down. But BoiseDev has learned neither party got the required permission from the City of Boise.
In the City of Trees, residents who live within a historic district, like the one surrounding Harrison Boulevard, must get a Certificate of Appropriateness from the city for a number of common projects, including removing a tree. A spokesperson for the City of Boise told BoiseDev the city never received an application from the homeowner or the state, which would make the removal illegal by the city’s own standards. The city’s online records portal shows no recent requests for the address.
BoiseDev reached out to the Idaho Department of Administration, the department responsible for the Capitol Christmas Tree, to find out why an application wasn’t filed. Executive Assistant Kim Rau said the department wasn’t aware of any requirement and is now working to complete needed documents.
“The tree, nearly 40 feet tall, was posing an obvious threat to the structure of the home as it had been planted too close to the house,” Rau said via email. “The homeowners were approached and asked if they were willing to donate the tree for this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree, and they agreed.”
Rau said the Department of Administration worked with other agencies on the annual project.
“Every step of the project was coordinated and executed perfectly,” she wrote. “However, our department was unaware of a requirement to make (an) application with the city for tree removal. We are currently working with the city to file the necessary paperwork.”
Boise City Code calls for a misdemeanor penalty of violating this historic preservation statute, punishable by a fine of “not more than $1,000,” but the city does not generally enforce the penalty provision. Boise City spokesperson Justin Corr says the violation can also be rectified by payment to the Tree Mitigation Fund or replacing the trees on-site, if the replacements closely match the caliper inches of the originals.
“For example, you could replace a 24″ (caliper) tree with twelve 2″ trees,” Corr said.
Corr didn’t say if the city would be penalizing the state.
Illegal tree removals, particularly on one property a few blocks away on 19th Street, embroiled the North End in conflict over the past year. Lengthy hearings from residents who objected to the removal and other illegal demolitions resulted in changes to the city’s ordinance this month. The new city law puts in place stricter punishments for property owners who violate the rules in the hopes of encouraging compliance.