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Nursery faces more trouble

As Hughes Nursery tries to justify its landscaping business, the company is accused of violating its agricultural license.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002


KEYSTONE -- Hughes Nursery, the Tarpon Springs Road business mired in a battle with Hillsborough County planners over the legality of its landscaping operation, faces additional problems with the Department of Planning and Growth Management.

The agency sent a letter to Hughes last week, accusing the 30-year-old company of violating its agricultural license. It claims Hughes illegally cut down trees and buried them, without permission, in an unpermitted pit.

Hughes also is accused of operating with an unapproved site plan.

In its letter to Hughes, the planning and growth department gives the Arcadia-based company various options for rectifying the problem, including planting new trees and donating trees or restoration money to the county.

But Hughes is not budging.

The company has done nothing wrong and will continue to fight all the allegations against it, president Ryan Hughes said Wednesday.

"Bottom line is, I got my agricultural exemption and I got my site plan, and the stuff we're clearing we're okay to clear" and place in the debris pit, said Hughes, who had not seen the letter.

Instead, the company is focusing on the zoning case, he said.

In February, planning and growth zoning administrator Paula Harvey reiterated past interpretations, saying that parking commercial vehicles at the Tarpon Springs Road site and installing trees cultivated by the nursery there amount to an illegal landscaping business. Hughes argues that the landscaping business is a reasonable offshoot of the nursery and that it is being unfairly singled out for enforcement.

Hughes said his new lawyer can show that many Hillsborough nurseries perform landscaping even though they only have agricultural licenses. He said 20 nurseries are willing to testify to that fact.

Land use hearing officer Margaret Tusing heard the company's appeal of Harvey's zoning opinion in May. She gave Vernon until July 5 to submit evidence proving the county is wrong. The next hearing is scheduled for July 19.

Other nurseries are "realizing if they do this, it's going to change the way landscaping is done," Hughes said. "They can't pick us out."

Planning and Growth Management sees the tree cutting and debris hole as yet more agricultural license violations, department inspector Christa Hull said.

The company illegally cut down four slash pines and one laurel oak tree, which must be replaced or compensated for, the violation letter says. According to the department, Hughes can either replant trees -- possibly more than two dozen -- or make other restitution, such as contributing $6,480 to the county's restoration fund. The company also could agree to combine different measures, Hull said.

"Just pushing debris into a hole is just not acceptable," she said.

-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314 or at zimmer@sptimes.com.

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