The crowd of protesters marched up Main Street on Monday evening, starting at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa and ending at Safety Harbor City Hall.
Once there, they stood in front of the site of the City Commission’s latest tree ordinance workshop, waving “Save the Tress” signs while encouraging passing motorists to honk their horns as a show of support for their cause, resulting in a cacophony of beeps and blasts.
But once everyone had funneled into the public meeting room for the 6 p.m. workshop to discuss the city’s pending tree ordinance and possible moratorium, officials asked for calm amid the rising rancor.
“What we’d like to do is make this a constructive meeting,” Mayor Andy Steingold told the assembled audience.
“There’s a lot of anger at what’s going on, and I’d like to channel that into something constructive so that we can create and ordinance that will serve the public and the citizens of this city as well as the balance between private property rights and the public.”
With that said, the commission dove into the topic at hand, namely deciding whether or not to enact a moratorium on removing any trees in town until the new draft tree ordinance can be put in place.
The decision to possibly enforce a moratorium stemmed from the recent removal of 13 trees from the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa property. With another 14 trees scheduled to be taken out in order to make room for a new parking lot, some residents called for a ban on tree removals until a stricter ordinance – with stiffer fines and fees – is implemented.
Some of the commissioners agreed with the idea of a moratorium, while others were not so enamored with the potential infringement on property owner’s rights.
“This is a much more comprehensive ordinance,” Vice Mayor Cliff Merz said of the draft proposal, which will incorporate the city’s current Grand Tree ordinance into it and could take five to six months before it’s officially approved.
“But we need to calmly go through this and make a decision, and I think a moratorium will give us time to do it right.”
“I think the goal of this is to slow things down until we put the ordinance in place,” Commissioner Rick Blake said. “So I would be more in favor of fast-tracking the ordinance and coming up with a long term solution rather than just shutting down the city.”
“I don’t think we should do a blanket moratorium,” Commissioner Carlos Diaz concurred. “I think just because we have a couple of institutions or organizations that don’t think the same way, now we’re going to create a general rule for everybody in the whole city, including those who are law-abiding people?”
Following more back and forth discussion, which included input on the legal aspects of the issue from City Attorney Alan Zimmet, Mayor Steingold asked if they had a consensus to send the moratorium to the Planning and Zoning Board for a vote on Wednesday.
While no formal vote was taken due to the workshop format, officials decided there was a consensus to move forward with the process, which if passed by P&Z, would place a moratorium on removing any trees in the City of Safety Harbor until April 1, 2015, or the day the new tree ordinance goes into effect, whichever comes first.
Afterwards, the mayor opened the floor to the residents who had come to speak on the subject.
Nearly two dozen concerned citizens took to the podium, most of whom agreed with the moratorium and expressed outrage over the removal of the trees at the spa.
One speaker, however, called for everyone to address the issue in the same type of calm manner the commissioners had requested earlier in the evening.
“I think the commissioners, I think the mayor, I think all of us want to save the trees,” Sue Zinkel said. “Being emotional over this is not going to help.”
“If you care about the trees, then attend the commission meetings and attend the tree meetings so that you can participate,” she added. “Coming here and voicing your concerns and never coming back is not going to help our city.”
- Protest to Precede Tree Workshop Tonight In Safety Harbor
- SHCC To Host Special Tree Workshop on Monday, Oct. 6
- Spa Tree Removal Sparks Outrage in Safety Harbor
- Felled Spa Trees To be Made Into Custom Carved Furniture Items
- Safety Harbor Explores Moratorium On Removing Trees
- SHCC Calls for Clearer Language, Higher Fees At Tree Ordinance Workshop
- City Commission Looks To Add “Teeth” To Tree Ordinance
Note: Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.com