Safety Harbor Draft Tree Ordinance Passes First Test

The Safety Harbor City Commission discusses the draft tree ordinance on Monday, March 2, 2015.

The Safety Harbor City Commission discusses the draft tree ordinance on Monday, March 2.

Safety Harbor’s proposed draft tree ordinance has been in development for the better part of eight months, as the five city commissioners worked hard to craft a document “with teeth” designed to protect the city’s tree canopy.

Last night, the commissioners came one step closer to completing their long-awaited task by voting to approve, on first reading, six separate ordinances within the main draft tree ordinance.

Five of the items passed unanimously, while one (2015-03) passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Rick Blake voting against it..

The end result of what Mayor Andy Steingold called “the longest piece of legislation I have ever worked on (in) my ten years up here” is an ordinance that should protect the city’s tree canopy while at the same time levying replacement requirements and fees on residents and developers who look to remove protected trees in town.

While recent compromises by the commissioner led to Monday’s initial vote of approval, there are still a few aspects of the ordinance that they do not agree on, namely the fees imposed on residents who look to remove protected trees from their property.

“You think our fees are too low, I think they’re too high,” Commissioner Carlos Diaz said, directing his comment to Commissioner Andy Zodrow. “I like our ordinance, but I’d like to see the fees go down a little bit.”

Commissioner Blake concurred.

“I also think that the (fee) schedule that we have right now is entirely too high,” he said.

The Safety Harbor tree ordinance replacement fee schedule.

Replacement fee schedule for Safety Harbor’s draft tree ordinance.

As the document stands right now, protected trees may only be removed for three reasons:

  1. the tree poses a safety hazard
  2. it is weakened by age, fire or other injury
  3. in  order to construct improvements to the property (i.e. adding a pool or a patio)

Should a property owner wish to remove a tree for any of these reasons, they would be required to file a $25 permit application fee with the City.

If the permit was approved, the applicant would have to plant replacements in a ratio based on the tree’s diameter at breast height (DBH), or pay an inch-for-inch replacement fee, which starts at $20 per inch and climbs to $100 per inch for trees with a 40-inch or greater DBH.

The heavy dose of fees and restrictions being imposed on residential property owners is what led Blake to vote against Ordinance 2015-03.

“Originally the verbiage was in there and we took it out, and I’d like to put it back in where it states if the lot meets the minimum requirement of trees already existing on the lot, then they wouldn’t have to pay fines to have them removed,” Blake said.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.

When Vice Mayor Cliff Merz added that he also “had a problem” with the table and the fees, Mayor Steingold said that even if the ordinance is approved on second reading on March 16, it won’t be the last time the matter is brought before City Hall.

“If this ordinance should pass I will guarantee you that we will be back up here discussing it in the next sixth months to a year, trying to figure it out and tweak it a little bit, because that’s how it always works,” the mayor said.

“I guarantee there is something tonight that we are missing. We didn’t see it,” he added. “So I imagine we will be discussing this down the road.”

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*Note: Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.

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