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County pushes native trees

An ordinance would require replacing chopped-down trees with native flora. The plan would help conserve water, officials say.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 5, 2001


For the purposes of its proposed tree protection ordinance, Pasco County is going native.

Homeowners wanting to chop down shade trees thicker than 4 inches always had to get permission from the county. The county forced them to replace the doomed trees with an equal number of similarly sized trees.

The difference now is that Pasco wants those replacement trees, in the name of drought tolerance and survivability, to be 75 percent "native to Pasco."

In the ordinance, sabal, cabbage and date palms are listed as native. Washington palms are not.

Oak, elm, dogwood, pine? Those are sufficiently native. Crape myrtle and citrus? Forget about them.

The new ordinance jibes with recent requirements from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for less thirsty landscaping.

"There really is a big push just to try to encourage the planting of more native species," said Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Blair, the main author of the tree ordinance.

The county commissioners will have their first crack at the ordinance at a meeting that begins at 9:30 a.m. today in the west governmental center in New Port Richey. A final vote is scheduled for June 26.

Pasco has long had a tree protection section in its land-development code but no formal ordinance.

In the name of beautification and environmental protection, the ordinance will enshrine for the first time a need for shade trees in parking lots.

Parking lots would require one tree for every eight parking spaces, if developers preserved existing shade trees, or one shade tree for every five parking spaces, if developers have clear-cut the land.

That was sweet news for Kathryn Starkey, a founding member of the group Scenic Pasco, which has tried to ban billboards and control the spread of cell towers.

"I think this will make Pasco look absolutely beautiful," she said.

Starkey also sits on the Citizens Ordinance Review Committee, which went over the ordinance last week and offered additions.

Starkey's group suggested that every lot in the county have at least one shade tree and that homeowners be required to plant three palms rather than one for every shade tree they remove.

Although attractive, palms provide less shade and less of a home for wildlife, Starkey said. Their more shallow roots are less helpful in preventing erosion.

The proposed ordinance would also affect development in Pasco.

Although the county has forced developers to keep inventories of trees on their property, existing requirements have been overly vague, said county Development Director Cindy Jolly.

The new ordinance would require developers, if a piece of land has previously been cleared, to plant at least 20 trees per acre.

"Topping" of trees -- the indiscriminate cutting back of branches to stubs -- is banned in the ordinance.

But if trees are narrower than 4 inches, all property owners -- developers or individual homeowners -- can chop with impunity.

"If it's not that size it's not considered a tree in the ordinance," Blair said.

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