Safety Harbor residents filled City Hall for a town hall style meeting on the proposed tree ordinance Monday night.
By all accounts, last night’s town hall meeting to discuss the City of Safety Harbor’s draft tree ordinance was considered a success.
By the conclusion of the two-hour fact finding session, the informal workshop served its purpose: to update the community on the status of the proposed tree ordinance while city officials received public input on specific aspects of the issue.
In fact, the meeting was was so successful, it brought residents who normally sit on opposite sides of the fence together, at least for one night.
“This was a great opportunity for the City Commission to listen to dialog from the community and pick up helpful comments and input,” Mayor Andy Steingold said after the meeting.
“There’s no doubt we heard things tonight that will make us look at parts of the ordinance we haven’t really addressed yet.”
Despite numerous workshops and countless commission meeting minutes dedicated to the topic, Monday’s meeting was the first opportunity for residents to speak freely on the topic, minus time limitations and agenda constrictions.
Vice Mayor Cliff Merz speaks up at the town hall meeting.
Many of the roughly 25-30 people in the audiencce, which included all five city commissioners, took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and provide suggestions about the city’s efforts to rewrite its existing Grand Tree Ordinance by adding stricter permitting and planting guidelines and including more protected species.
Some suggestions officials said they would take into consideration include giving away more trees for free; adding a separate tier of fees for individual home builders who are looking to reside in Safety Harbor; and opening a dialog with local developers and entities, such as the Safety Harbor Spa, in order to reduce potential unnecessary tree removals.
Whether it was the format or the topic, for the first time in what seems like a long time in town, residents and officials appeared to be united in their directions and goals.
“For once I agree with Mr. Barge on this point,” community activist Shelly Schellenberg said of outspoken businessman Jim Barge’s idea to fine and/or punish tree trimming companies that violate the city’s tree removal guidelines.
Safety Harbor resident Sara Bishop (green) speaks at the town hall meeting on Monday.
City Manager Matt Spoor, who moderated the discussion, noted there will be at least four more meetings, including another workshop in January, between now and the time city officials plan to have the document completed in march or April.
Until then, residents were satisfied that they were given a chance to weigh in on what is an import matter in the “City of Trees.”
“I thought this was an excellent forum for citizens to find out where we are in the process,” Safety Harbor resident Sara Bishop said afterwards.
“For the city commission to ask for comments and feedback from us, I hope people take advantage of that and either come to the meetings or go online and contribute to the discussion.”
For more information on the City of Safety Harbor’s draft tree ordinance, visit this section of the city’s website.
To leave a comment or ask a question about the issue, email the city directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.