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Tree dispute remains unsettled

The Safety Harbor agency tables a request to order a homeowner to cut down hazardous live slash pines.

By EILEEN SCHULTE, Times Staff Writer
Published July 22, 2005

SAFETY HARBOR - Over the years, the city's Code Enforcement Board has heard it all: complaints about junk cars rusting on front lawns, old refrigerators tossed into vacant lots and garbage heaped in makeshift dumping grounds.

Or so members thought.

At a Wednesday hearing, the city asked members to force a homeowner to cut down her live trees.

Patrice Charles had been issued a citation saying she was "maintaining a nuisance" because she has seven slash pine trees on her property that have been declared hazardous by an expert the city hired.

The complaint was filed by Kara Bauer, a city commissioner who lives next door to Charles in the Rainbow Farms North subdivision.

Parts of the neighborhood have dozens of slash pines. During the 2004 hurricanes, they started crashing down on houses and lanais, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Two of Charles' trees lean toward Bauer's master bedroom, so she asked Charles to cut them down before somebody gets hurt. Charles refused, saying she loves her trees.

In her testimony, Charles accused the city's code enforcement officer, Bob Repp, of giving Bauer preferential treatment because the city hired an arborist at a cost of $125 an hour to examine Charles' trees.

"Have you ever known the city to hire a consultant to inspect live trees on private property?" she asked Repp.

"No," he replied.

Some board members questioned why a citation was not issued to another neighbor who also had a number of leaning pines.

"She's a single mom raising kids," Repp said of the other neighbor. "And she was trying to get (the trees) removed."

The board asked Repp if he practices selective enforcement of the code.

Repp said he does not.

"Other residents said they were trying to remove the trees," he said. "Ms. Charles made it clear to me she did not have any intention of removing the trees."

Joseph Samnik, the arborist hired by the city to study Charles' trees, testified that slash pines "are No. 1 in Florida for being lost in storms."

They stand about 80 feet tall and "all the weight is at the top."

"I wouldn't want to be living under them," he said.

After the testimony, board members asked Charles if she thinks her trees are dangerous.

"I feel all the trees are hazardous," she said. "Do I think these trees can fall down? Yes." Her husband, Gary Platteis, said all trees have the potential for falling, and in a storm, anything can happen.

"Roofs can come off during hurricanes," he said.

Charles and Platteis married in April. She moved in with her husband in Tampa and no longer lives in her Rainbow Farms North house. She plans to sell it.

Bauer said she is just trying to protect her family.

"Three experts - hers, the city's and ours - all agree that these trees present a danger to my home and my health," she said. "Then (board members) say, "Let's table it for a month' - in the middle of hurricane season.

"They are already hurricane damaged, and now we have Tropical Storm Franklin and another tropical depression. They don't have to worry about cutting these trees down. A hurricane will do it," she said.

Because attorney Tom Trask, who advises Safety Harbor on code enforcement issues, was not able to attend the hearing, the board decided to revisit the issue at next month's meeting.

As for Charles' accusation that Bauer received special treatment because she is an elected official, the board suggested Charles bring her complaint to the City Commission.

"We're talking about it," she said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or

[Last modified July 22, 2005, 00:33:20]

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