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City leans toward tougher tree rules

Under the new law, removing a so-called grand tree would require a permit. Builders say it's just more bureaucracy.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


TAMPA -- Home builders might think twice the next time they slice off a few tree limbs. They could be breaking the law.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Thursday to amend the tree ordinance by adding tougher restrictions on removing established trees and on severing limbs. The council is expected to give final approval to the changes when it meets in two weeks.

Under the new law, anyone wanting to remove a so-called grand tree -- those generally more than 36 inches in diameter and more than 30 feet tall -- will have to obtain an administrative permit unless the city's urban forester determines the condition of the tree poses a hazard.

In some cases, grand trees can be removed if they prevent what the city deems a "reasonable" use of a piece of property. Developers can present those cases to the city's variance review board in a public hearing.

Also, the amendments tighten restrictions on tree trimming, requiring permits and raising standards to match national requirements, said assistant city attorney Morris Massey.

The legislation comes almost a year after the controversial shearing of a huge live oak last June on Chapin Avenue near Bayshore Drive.

At City Hall Thursday, several residents took the podium to applaud the tighter restrictions.

But a few developers and home builders argued that the amendments were bureaucratic and a knee-jerk reaction to a few isolated incidents.

"The current tree ordinance is doing a good job and protects trees," said John Sample, a home builder in South Tampa. "Each time you put another layer on, it's a continuous erosion of property rights. The trees have more rights than the people who planted them."

Sample said he worries that the new restrictions will lengthen the process. He said that when a request is now made, the urban forester must notify neighbors and give them 14 days to appeal.

"You don't have people out there butchering grand trees," he said. "People love them. It's a couple of issues that started this whole thing. So now, rather than going out and trimming a limb, you can't do that. You have to get a permit, an approval, and give every opportunity for it to get denied."

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