Residents of Charlotte neighborhood told to remove flags from city trees

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When some neighbors in the Sedgefield community in Charlotte started a tradition of flying American flags on trees, they started something unique to their neighborhood.

"It makes it more beautiful," said one woman who was out for a stroll. "For me it represents like they still believe in the nation. It represents the country."

Which is why Hurst Mauldin is flying the American flag on the tree outside his house.

"Some of the neighbors had put them up down the street here and I thought it was a wonderful idea. I'm very proud of my country and I wanted to show it," Mauldin told WBTV.

Now, Sedgefield neighbors are hearing that the flags flying on city trees have to come down.

"I don't like the idea. I don't think the flag is harming anybody. I will take it down if I'm told to do so but I will do it under protest because I think the flag is important to us. It's a symbol of what everything this country stands for," Mauldin said.

"We're aware the American flag - telling people to take down the American flag carries its own set of challenges, but in the black and white enforcement of the ordinance it's just an object in our eyes attached to a tree so we want to protect the tree," City Arborist Tim Porter said.

Porter, who is with Charlotte's Landscape Management division, says the city has an ordinance that prohibits attaching any type of object to a city tree.

The problem with the flag is the bracket.

"There are tiny nails and it is a minor violation, but it is still damaging the tree. Any type of wound, trees are living organisms, any type of wound into a living organism could be a way for disease or pests to get in there to reduce the health of the tree," Porter said.

Porter added, "there's a two part issue here, the actual damage to the tree. We also don't want to encourage other folks to attach things to city trees because in the future it might be more damaging. It's more of a deterrent."

"I hate to take away from the community effort. Obviously the community wanted to get together, support their country, support their community unfortunately we just can't have damage to city trees, can't take that approach," Porter said. "I'm really sad to have to tell people to take down the American flag but doing my job trying to protect the trees that's kinda of what we're looking at first and foremost – the object itself attached to a tree."

Porter says an inspector with his office was out checking construction sites in the area when he noticed the neighborhood wide issue of flags flying on city streets.

Homeowners who have flags flying on city trees will get a letter informing them of the ordinance and requests they take the flags down.

"We just work with the community to resolve the issue, help increase awareness, help support them in removing the brackets off the trees. If there's continued reluctance to remove the brackets then we might have to come out ourselves and take the action ourselves," Porter said.

Porter says violation of the tree ordinance can carry a fine.

"We try to work out every violation as best we can without initiating the violation fine/penalty process. We don't want to assess civil fines or penalties so right now there will be no fine or penalty," he said.

For Hurst Mauldin, that is of little consolation. While he has said he will remove his flag if told to, he doesn't understand why the flags have to go.

He doesn't believe the pole brackets harm the trees.

"There are four screws in there. It won't. If you girdle a tree, that's going around it completely with something, it will eventually kill a tree but four screws in there are not going to kill a tree," he said.

"I just don't understand why after two three years they suddenly decide they want to have us take these down. They leave all these plastic signs up advertising everything under the sun and they don't take them down," he said.

Ultimately, Mauldin says he will comply.

"You can't fight city hall," he said.

Will Johns of the Neighborhood Association says the community has worked with the city over the years to save the tree canopy. He expects neighbors will step up again.

"We understand the idea that trees can easily get diseased and stressed out so we're trying to work in a positive way with the city to preserve the trees but yet still be patriotic and show our true colors. We're more than happy to do that in a way that we would keep it off city trees and keep it on private property."

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