Trees being removed at the Safety Harbor Spa on Tuesday. Credit: Gisela Bennie.
Workers began removing trees from the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa property this week, causing a wave of protest to ripple through town.
Social media sites blew up after pictures of the felled trees started making the rounds Tuesday afternoon, as the significance of the decision to clear at least 14 trees from the spa in order to make room for a new parking lot hit home.
“Cutting down trees for a parking lot? Shame on you! And to think how beautiful that land used to be… Bad form SHR&S,” Jen Pipin wrote on the spa’s Facebook page.
“Tree slaughter at Safety Harbor Spa. Sick to my stomach. I will never look at this property the same again,” another Facebook post read.
Another post to the spa’s Facebook page by Ken McGuire contained a photo with the caption, “So sad to see these trees go.”
In a reply to that post, the spa responded by stating “Please see the post we made on September 17th. We address this problem with the trees.”
A quick check of that entry reveals a partial explanation behind the spa’s decision:
Some of our members and guests have expressed concern for the trees in the parking area. We would just like to say:
We love our trees too! Thank you for posting your concern on our Facebook page. Please be assured, we are making every effort to save all the trees possible as we pave and improve our guest parking facilities in the unpaved area. We have consulted with a professional arborist as well as officials from the City of Safety Harbor and Pinellas County. We are following the recommendations of these professionals – which are that some of the trees are unsafe due to age and/or disease and should be removed for the safety of our members and guests. Just this past Sunday (9/14/14) one of the trees on Philippe Parkway fell down due to age. Please know we will do our best to minimize the damage to the beauty and ecology of the property. Again, thank you for your concern and comments.
The issue is coming to a head as the city is working on drafting a new tree ordinance and exploring a possible moratorium that would prohibit the removal of trees in town.
Some trees on the spa property are diseased and/or damaged, according to officials.
Proponents of the moratorium realize there is little time to waste, as the spa owners are contemplating removing around 15-20 more of the site’s 138 trees.
Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold addressed residents’ concerns about the situation during the City Commission meeting last week.
“The City doesn’t permit the removal of trees, except for a Grand tree. The permitting is through the county,” he said.
“We’re concerned enough that we’re trying to take a tree ordinance in-house and make it more strict in-house than the county’s ordinance.”
Mayor Steingold then asked City Manager Matt Spoor to send a letter to spa owner Bill Touloumis requesting he reduce the number of trees he is looking to remove.
“He’s going to do what he wants,” the mayor said,” but I think a letter would help.”
That letter was sent Tuesday, September 16. It reads as follows:
The Safety Harbor City Commission would like to thank you for your positive efforts in improving your facility for the residents and guests of the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. The City Commission and residents appreciate the tree canopy and the value it brings to our properties and community.
The City Commission understands trees must be removed to complete your new parking project and adjacent detention pond. We thank you for removing any dead or hazardous trees and for replanting with several live oak trees within the parking lot. The City Commission would ask that you strongly consider working around any and all healthy trees for the benefit of your property and the community as a whole.
Thank you for your time,
Mayor of Safety Harbor, on behalf of the entire City Commission
Stay with Safety Harbor Connect for updates and continued coverage of the tree removals at the Safety Harbor Spa.