Trees are an integral part of any yard. That is, until they become a problem. Trees that cause problems are relatively easy to remove. If a tree isn’t causing a specific problem, it can still be removed, but with stipulations. Florida state statutes allow landowners to remove a tree that poses an “unacceptable risk” to people or property, free of fees from local governments.
At the Sept. 5 Gulfport City Council meeting, Councilmember April Thanos (Ward I) proposed an amendment that would make it more difficult for individuals to remove trees.
Chapter 22, Article XX of the Gulfport Code of Ordinances lays out tree guidelines. This current ordinance allows landowners to remove trees after applying for and receiving a permit from the City. Along with this, there are stringent requirements as to the size of the replacement trees, as well as the fee for removal.
Councilmember Thanos’ proposed amendment would add more specifications to those guidelines, but would not override the Florida Statutes.
Proposed Tree Ordinance
Thanos’ proposed amendment promotes the importance of 2-inch, pot-grown trees in favor of the currently required 4-inch ground-grown trees.
“Say you’re taking out a 10-inch tree. You have to replace it with five 2-inch trees,” said Thanos. “If they pay us a fee instead of putting in a tree, they aren’t compensating for the loss of that tree.”
Along with the change in size of the tree, Thanos also proposed an increase in the fee to $125.
“We’re just trying to recover the costs of the tree removal,” said Thanos. “I’m not trying to be punitive, but the more it discourages people from removing their trees, the better.”
This ordinance garnered community support, receiving two lengthy public comments from Walter Barker and Toffer Ross. Ross works as the City of Gulfport Horticulturalist.
“I’ve been waiting for trees to come up,” said Barker, approaching the podium. “I’m all in favor of whatever we can do to increase trees and allow trees to survive. Make it more costly because if they’re going to clear it, they’re going to clear it.”
Barker stressed the importance of trees to Gulfport as a whole. He described his disappointment at the lack of trees in the area surrounding the city.
Ross brought up studies coming out of Florida universities. She explained these studies demonstrate the specific importance of figuring out the perfect situation for a tree to survive, looking across size, place, species, and time of planting.
“Be cautious with a 4-inch tree,” said Ross. “Citizens have a tough time buying a 4-inch tree and it is hard to get citizens to do what you tell them to. If we’re not enforcing it, it won’t get done.”
Despite the public support at the meeting, Council still was apprehensive to pass the amendment in its current form.
“I believe the current ordinance is fine. I don’t think we need to improve it. It isn’t broken,” said Councilmember Ian O’Hara (Ward IV).
Similarly, Councilmember Christine Brown (Ward II) described concerns with the amendment.
“I don’t want to make it harder for people to replace trees. I don’t want to make it harder for the family who wants to build a room for grandma and have to remove a tree to make it happen,” said Brown.
In its current state, the amendment failed to pass.
“I came in here thinking this was a great idea, but that isn’t what I’m hearing,” Mayor Sam Henderson said before calling the vote. “Would anyone be opposed with tabling this and looking at it more? I do want to see something that would give you more pause before removing a tree, but I want to make sure that if we are making it more stringent, we are doing it in the smartest possible way.”
The council tabled the amendment and will discuss again in the future.
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