Landlord Says He’s ‘Looking at Terminating’ Lease of Wendy’s Franchisee Who Cut Down Upper Kirby Street Trees

Tree Stumps Along North Blvd., Wendy's Restaurant, 5003 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston

The owner of the property at the southeast corner of Kirby Dr. and North Blvd. has indicated he might attempt to evict the Wendy’s franchise whose operator appears to have ordered the nighttime removal of 6 oak trees on public property surrounding the fast-food outlet earlier this week. Lias J. “Jeff” Steen, the property’s landlord, says he sent an email saying “I am extremely disappointed he took down the trees under cover of darkness . . . And I am looking at terminating our lease,” according to a report by abc13’s Deborah Wrigley.


Tree Stumps Along North Blvd., Wendy's Restaurant, 5003 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston

The Wendy’s franchisee at 5003 Kirby Dr. is Haza Foods, an Austin company run by Ali Dhanani in the convenience-store business that has recently acquired a large number of Wendy’s restaurants throughout Texas. Dhanani claims he decided to remove the trees because their roots were “tearing up” the surrounding pavement. But photographs of the site (above) appear to show that the surrounding pavement has already been removed.

New landscaping, including “indigenous” trees, is planned to be added to the site when it reopens late next month, Dhanani tells the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris. “If we’ve made a mistake in this process, we apologize,” he writes in an email to Morris. “It was done in good faith, and our intent is to create a restaurant that our customers will enjoy and the neighborhood will be proud of.”

A spokesperson for Mayor Parker says the city is still fact-finding about the Tuesday-night incident first reported on Swamplot earlier this week. A tree-removal company working for Dhanani during the renovation of the Wendy’s does not appear to have applied for or received any permits for chainsawing the trees; according to Steen, the franchise owner didn’t even have permission for the actions from his landlord. The city will seek reimbursement for the damage “with as little formality as we have to go through,” the city attorney tells Morris. A legal settlement last year resulted in a townhome developer and other responsible parties paying a $300,000 fine to the city for clearing trees from a Woodland Heights public park.

Photos: Swamplot inbox

Removed ‘in Good Faith’

30 Comment

  • if the landlord terminates the lease who’s left to release to premises as all the fast food restaurants are already near by and taco bell left years ago – sound like someone’s just trying to save face. This story of the week needs to die soon as it’s getting boring plus who doesn’t like a late night $1 burger from Wendys?

  • The Google street view seems to show a driveway that is in fairly good shape…although cracked and perhaps beginning to buckle.,-95.4182581,3a,51.3y,155.66h,70.83t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s46vZ3OwdkPxcnU7n75k94w!2e0

  • “But photographs of the site (above) appear to show that the surrounding pavement has already been removed.”

    I’m not sure what the significance of that comment is supposed to be. If the pavement had been torn up by the trees, it’s logical that they’d tear it up, and then maybe want to get rid of the trees that caused it. Though if that’s the reason, why did this Dhanani character (supposedly) decide to replace them with more trees? And why do it in the middle of the night, if it’s on the up and up?

    Could be the tree company was shady, and knew they couldn’t get a permit, so convince him to let them work at night for traffic reasons or something. Usually it’s up to the contractor to pull the permits, so Dhanani may really have not known it was illegal.

  • Planting a live oak within 5 feet of a paved surface is the definition of insanity. Sooner or later it’s going to be the tree or the pavement. I’ll bet the pavement usually wins.

  • Don’t boycott Wendy’s, as this was the decision of a franchise owner. The landlord would be wise to terminate the lease, and could probably get more for the property than the current rent.

  • Why not boycott Wendy’s.? They have remained conspicuously silent. They entered into a franchise agreement. Surely they require their franchisees to obey the law. Surely Wendy’s can terminate the franchise agreement if the franchisee ignores City ordinances ? How do we have any confidence in the safety and cleanliness of any franchise if they are permitted to ignore City ordinances. I am a long time customer of Wendy’s. They need to step up to the plate and take ownership of this mess.

  • I find it highly unlikely that Mr. Dahnani wouldn’t be curious about formalities of cutting down trees in the cities right of way. He has been dealing with a very stringent enforcement code in Austin where most of his holdings are. You cannot cut any trees down on a site after you file for construction permits. In Austin a survey of every tree on the property is done and every trees diameter is listed. Upon completion of said project they come back with the survey to see if any of the trees were cut down. If trees have been cut they require that trees are replaced in same diameter. This is standard practice and I think that anyone working in Austin would check into the permitting requirements for this type of action no matter where the project is, just in case they have a similar code. He’s lying through his teeth and thinks he can get away with it. I hope the city fines him $300,000.
    I hope he loses his lease and if not, Just boycott this location. The tree removal company should be banned from working in Houston. There is no excuse for them. They should know the regulations and the permits required of the city of Houston. This kind of work is only done under the cover of darkness for one reason. To get away with a crime!

  • @mr me: Plenty of people don’t care for Wendy’s. Plenty do like them. I fail to see how that’s relevant though.

  • @mr me, maybe its time to let fast food die off on Kirby, Goode Co is looking to expand the Armadillo Palace, and that piece of land would be perfect…

  • Good point, ChrisC. It could have been the contractor who was ultimately at fault for cutting the trees without a permit. If it was the subcontractor, then the GC needs to fire that guy. If it was the GC, then the owner needs to fire him right away. In either case, they broke contract. Every set of contract documents that I’ve seen (I am an architect) requires that the contractors get all necessary permits required for the Work.
    That said, based on what has been said publicly, I’m not getting warm and fuzzies from Mr. Dhanani. He needs to take firm action here; not just say “gee, did we mess up? Sorry.” If he doesn’t like trees – if he thinks they hurt his business’s visibility (a common sentiment among slummy, low-end retail developers and owners) then as I’ve said before, he should leave Houston. If this is the case, Mr. Dhanani would be much happier doing business in Phoenix or Las Vegas, where there are no trees.

  • I fail to see how the insurance company for the tree hackers would find it acceptable for them to work in the dark…oh wait, they probably don’t carry insurance.


  • Swampdwellers: here’s the reality about those trees–they mattered. Even if one applies all the “rules of perspective” that cognitive therapists teach to evaluate destructive thoughts that set off feedback loops of negativity in vulnerable people (several of whom, sadly, often read and often post on this site,) the illegal, sneaky, arrogant and ignorant killing of those trees really matters to all Houstonians and will for a very long time.
    The first perspective rule is the “100 year rule”. Y’know–the ol’ “will this matter in a century?” Using this rule to evaluate an event usually makes it look small.
    The second is “the measuring rod rule”, which one uses to discover how bad something really is. Example: you wrecked your car? You can get another one. Some things you can’t replace, those things in your life are more important than your wrecked car.
    The third is the “middle of the night rule”, which suggests that dark thoughts flourish in nighttime, but daylight will bring clarity. So don’t worry about something until you can examine it the next day.
    The final rule is the “statute of limitations”–don’t worry about things after the possibility of taking action or making an impact is over. (–learned from Butler, G. and Hope, T., Managing Your Mind, 2007)
    To a reasonable mind, the arborcide at Kirby and North Blvd. matters.
    As an arborist told me at the site the other day, those trees were well-sited and healthy. They had grown into their place, they had survived their first summer with the daily hand-watering of thoughtful and committed neighbors, they had lived through Tropical Storm Alicia, Hurricane Ike, the arctic blasts of 2009 and 2010, and our unrelenting drought which have brought down literally millions of Houston trees. Those trees were about a third of the way to their maximum trunk diameter, but they were youths in terms of live oak lifespan (the oldest southern live oaks in the USA are estimated to be between several hundred and 1,000 years old.)
    So the loss of THOSE oaks WILL matter in a century. The loss will matter to my children and my children’s children. There is NO way to replace those oaks–if new oaks are planted today, it will take a generation for them to resemble the oaks that were killed on October 28, 2014. The ugly reality of the murder of those trees was SO much worse the next morning–seeing those stumps and missing that shade in the light of day brought a clarity to just how dastardly and cowardly the thoughtless frenzy of destruction had been the night before. And as for the statute of limitations? Not over, baby. The citizens of Houston can sue for as much money as we can get (although there is no amount of money that could replace those trees, obviously.) We can bring criminal charges, perhaps file OSHA compliance violation complaints. We can encourage the landowner to revoke the lease. We can let Wendy’s and Mr. Dhanani know that apologies are certainly not enough, and we’re too smart to be fooled by the ol’ “easier to apologize later than to ask permission” strategy. (Mr. Dhanani’s apology is an insult. We are not stupid.) We can and will boycott all Wendy’s forever (not hard) and we can discover and boycott all businesses owned by Haza Foods. We can educate ourselves and others that trees are valuable, breathing plant citizens of our city and we are committed to protecting them, and we expect all businesses and all citizens of Houston to share that commitment. We can and will enforce the COH tree ordinance to its fullest extent, and will consider wanton tree killers to be criminals.

  • EVICT THIS WENDY’S FOR WHAT THEY DID IN THE DARK!!! Boycott. The driveway, parking lot statement is just an excuse. What else could he say?

  • Which tree company did this? Or who did the chopping??? Dhanani should be fined the maximum.

  • Meanwhile maybe Annise and Ellen can demand a parklet in exchange for the clear cutting of the future Treaty Oaks

  • How is this any different than the new Chick Fil a on 290 and Shepard? They cut down over a dozen mature oaks that were a lot bigger than these trees and no one screemed foul. Regardless, this is a travesty and some consequence is needed

  • Who cares ,the trees are gone plant new ones that would be appropriate for the business and the pavement.

  • Restitution: Wendy’s and the franchisee should be required to REPLACE THE TREES. As these trees have roots extending way under the street and the sidewalk I would imagine this would run a couple hundred grand. Estimate, bill them, and put the money to good public use. These trees area at least 30 or 40 years old, perhaps 100 or more. They predated the pavement.

    As to Mr. Me’s comment of “who doesn’t like a late night $1 burger from Wendy’s?” Mainly drunks do . People who don’t go to bars until the middle of the night and don’t eat crap like Wendy’s don’t care for their “late night $1 burger” do not want Wendy’s around. One of these people would be me and there are plenty of people like me. Want to die young? Eat Wendy’s food. It is crap.

    Why are not these comment posted by real people but pseudonyms? Got something to hide??? No problem planting trees within 5 feet of the pavement Heightsguy. Each comment here is worse than the last.

    These comments I am reading are all from greedy developers apparently. These trees predate the pavement. Apparenly Mr. Dahnani does not live here, he lives in Austin? He wants his money and screw the rest of us. He has committed a crime against the public and should be prosecuted. Doesn’t appear anything will happen. Money rules: never forget it.

  • The “week link” in this chain seems to be the tree cutting company. The tenant might be able to claim ignorance about laws regarding cutting down trees, but a tree removing company does not have that excuse.

    If these companies were held liable for damages (in addition to the owners) then it is unlikely that you would find many tree removal firms willing to cut down trees in the right of way without first securing all the proper paperwork.

    Without these removal companies willing to play along these types of “mistakes” will become a lot less frequent and harder to pull off.

  • To follow up on Heightsguy’s point… why plant trees with roots that will most likely end up pulling up the pavement? Genuinely curious about that. Anyone?

  • @jeff Chamblin.
    The trees are hardly 40-100 years old. They were planted in the 90s. Talk about hyperbole and we all know they will be replanted. As far the comment of it being okay to plant trees within 5 feet of pavement–drive down Westheimer btween Kirby and River Oaks or all through Cherryhurst in Montrose or on Mandell south of Bissonnet or Eldridge between I-10 and Westheimer and get back to us. You think all the complaints about the horrible sidewalks in Montrose aren’t directly related for the most part to trees that in inappropriate for the contained space? Yes it is a shame that the trees were cut so don’t ever eat there again and take a pill.

  • Live oaks of this size can be replaced. A 500 gal tree, 10-12 inch caliper, runs about $5k with installation. I doubt that any reputable contractor would recommend it however, due to the restricted space available. If one considers the long term, these trees become very huge and tear up pavement. Landscaping is always the last consideration in any project, the first to be deprived of resources when the budget is tight, and the least endowed with intelligent planning. I need only point to the ill-considered use of bald cypress along upper Kirby. These trees are now being hideously trimmed to allow safe passage of traffic, and before long, their roots, being close to the surface, will be tearing up pavements.

  • The City of Houston REQUIRES commercial projects to have trees planted, in the R.O.W. along the street. You can’t get a building permit w/o a Landscape Plan showing your tree planting plan. Also REQUIRED are parking lot trees and shrubs screening the parking along the property line. You CANNOT remove a R.O.W. “street tree” without City approval and some replacement compensation trees.

    What they did was wrong and they knew it. They can get large trees to replace those that were cut down. Not cheap, but it is possible. They should have to replace the trees like-for-like, and whoever is responsible for this poor decision should pay a criminal fine.

  • Regarding the proposed Wendy’s boycott, a boycott of the whole chain seems misguided, but considering this franchisee (Haza Foods) operates 30 Wendy’s in the Houston area, not eating at Wendy’s in Houston (or Austin, where he has another 30) does make sense, if you are someone who likes to boycott things.

    If he’s really thinking of terminating the lease, that would be an enormous loss of money for him, especially considering it probably has a new 20 year lease. Makes me think that he isn’t serious and is just trying to defuse anger.

  • Houston overall needs better landscaping. Surely there are policy innovations somewhere that we can combine to use here to get the result we want. It would go such a long way towards beautifying the city. There’s no reason that it should be the last consideration.
    Houston’s setback requirements, etc. could morph into a lightweight type of form-based planning with modern landscaping playing a more central role. This could be something Houston could be known for.

  • No construction/renovation activity at Wendy’s on Kirby at North Blvd today, and big, bright orange COH redtag clearly visible on remaining window of gutted building. Maybe someone “forgot’ some other required permits?

    The one remaining tree by the padlocked construction gate across the drive-thru driveway cast lovely cool shade all across both lanes of North Blvd today at noon…

  • Stop work issued on permit 14093052 Structural. Oct 31.

  • “Why not boycott Wendy’s.? ”

    Because it’s an empty and impotent gesture intended only to make the boycotters feel as though they have Done Something.

  • Matt, When you boycott an establishment or a product you do it so it hits their bottom line and it financially hurts them. If you were around in the late 1960’s- early 70’s there was a hugely successful boycott of Gallo Wine. It went countrywide to protest the working conditions of migrant workers. They gained the right to form a union, The United Farmworkers Union and working conditions and compensation improved. It is a useful tactic.