There's a happy ending in Howey-in-the-Hills for Gene Chaput and his trees.

Chaput, 89, has been embroiled in a dispute with the city of Howey-in-the-Hills after he was cited for trimming the trees he planted on his property many years ago. On Tuesday, a hearing officer decided that Chaput, a Korean War veteran with three Bronze Stars, should face no fines.

The dispute began a few months ago when Chaput became concerned about the two laurel oaks he planted at his Howey home in 1983. It looked as if the branches overhanging his home — or the trees themselves — could blow over and damage the house.

"I didn't know if insurance would cover it," Chaput said. "I did that to protect my house."

Chaput said he and his son, Jim Chaput, went to town hall, told them they wanted to trim the trees and asked if they needed a permit. He was told he did not.

He trimmed the first tree, then got a visit from the code enforcement officer, who told Chaput he had committed a violation.

Chaput returned to town hall, asked the same question, got the same answer, trimmed the second tree, got a second visit from code enforcement and this time was cited.

On Nov. 8, in a hearing before the town's Special Magistrate, he was found in violation of two counts of the tree-trimming ordinance. He was also told to pay a fee for the removal of excessive yard waste from his home. The maximum possible fine for the tree infractions was $5,000 per tree, and the hearing to determine fines was held Tuesday morning at Howey-in-the-Hills Town Hall.

Chaput paid the charge for removal of excess waste prior to the hearing. Howey Police Chief Rick Thomas decided to waive the administrative and investigative costs and recommended to the Special Magistrate that Chaput be assessed a fine of $25 per violation.

But Magistrate Heather Chrisman set the fine at zero.

Nodding at Jim Chaput, Chrisman said "I agree that this is not an offense that warrants a fine."

The problem came down to a lack of proper communication. The town's ordinance does allow tree trimming without a permit, but there are some restrictions. In particular, there is to be no hat-racking — or lopping the tops off the trees. That's how Chaput's trees were trimmed, but he was not aware of those restrictions until both trees had been trimmed.

Speaking after the brief hearing, Gene Chaput said "They think I don't like trees. I love trees. I have 40 acres over here where I raise cattle, and I planted trees all over — 200 oaks, 50 cypress, plus pine trees."

And as for Chaput's two hat-racked laurel oaks, they seem to be doing just fine, sprouting new shoots.