Florida cities are battling with state lawmakers in Tallahassee. Recent tension started in a small trailer park on Grady, in Tampa. There were big Spanish trees covered with moss that overlook the park. When the tree crew began chainsawing them, word spread quickly. The city code officials cited Miller & Sons for not having a permit. Tree advocates took pictures of the event. The police came to the scene to protect people from falling limbs and to keep things civil. Now, whether cities have authority over when trees are removed has arisen.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican, is one of the law’s architects. In a letter, he has said that the only people who have authority over this matter would be the landscape architect or arborist in their expert opinion. The local government should have no way to affect or control the outcome of the decision.
Gina Grimes, the Tampa City Attorney, has commented that the city intends to follow the law. She thinks the landscape architect or arborist should have documentation on whether a tree is dangerous to property or people. She knows that the workers can’t be forced to hand them documentation, but without the paperwork, they could be shredding trees illegally.
Jonathan Lee, the certified arborist who evaluated the Grady property, has said that the new law doesn’t allow him to say a tree could be dangerous. His job is to assess risk. The property owner decides to remove the tree. He said that he did a thorough job on the Grady property and said to leave three healthy grand oaks alone. He continued that the city is upset they lost some power and have known about these cuttings before the incident. They are purposely misrepresenting his findings.
This incident is just the latest in an ongoing disagreement between environmentalists and the property owners. In the 1970s Tampa had an ordinance that protected its trees from being cleared for development. Property owners and construction crew have always been critical. They had finally reached a compromise in April, but the new state law went into effect on July 1st and invalidated the city’s work.
Gina Grimes confirmed that the Grady property is not zoned as residential. The law only regulates residential properties. This incident is headed to a special magistrate by code enforcement officials. She says this was a poor example of the state’s new law and didn’t see any documents from Lee. Chelsea Johnson is the founder of the tree advocacy group and the one who helped to complete the compromise. She said she’s mad that the city hasn’t stepped up to defend the Tree Canopy.
Mark Bently represented the developer. The county property appraiser records show Life O’Reilly MHP as the owner of the property and have a St. Petersburg P.O Box. In June, they tried to clear the property to add another 80 residential units and 700-square-feet of offices. The city said no, but it can be appealed. Council members Bill Carlson and John Dingfelder told Grimes to look into joining cities to challenge the law in court. Joe Chillura, the original author of the tree ordinance, completely agrees with them.