Local tree regulations under attack

Grand Tree Anna Maria
Anna Maria Commissioners would not allow this grand tree on North Shore Drive to be removed along with two others. -Joe Hendricks | Sun

Updated Jan. 13, 2018

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Florida Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has filed a bill that seeks to prevent local governments from regulating tree removal and trimming and reserve that authority to the state.

City officials in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach oppose the legislation and have asked their contracted lobbyists to lobby against it.

Steube filed Senate Bill 574 in October. Rep. Katie Edwards-Wapole (D-Sunrise) and Rep. Jake Raburn (R-Valrico) then co-filed HB 521 as its House companion in November.

Steube’s bill proposes that city and county governments may not prohibit or restrict a private landowner from trimming, removing or harvesting trees or timber located on private property; may not require mitigation including, but not limited to, planting trees or paying a fee to remove trees or timber from private property; or prohibit the burial of trees, shrubs or other vegetative debris on properties larger than 2.5 acres.

“I wonder how, with a clear conscience, he can sit in his gated community and decide that the state should regulate the tree canopy on Anna Maria Island.”
Dan Murphy, Anna Maria Mayor

The state Legislature’s 60-day session began Tuesday, Jan. 9 and is scheduled to end in March. Steube’s bill has been referred to the committees on Community Affairs, Environmental Preservation and Conservation and Rules. If adopted, the new state law would take effect July 1.

Bradenton Beach opposition

Bradenton Beach’s land development code includes grand tree protections and tree replacement requirements. Steube’s bill was discussed at the City Commission’s Jan. 4 meeting when Scenic WAVES Committee member Betty Rogers presented a letter the committee wanted to send to Steube.

Bradenton Beach Tree Protections
Betty Rogers and the rest of Bradenton Beach’s Scenic WAVES Committee oppose Greg Steube’s proposed tree removal legislation. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“This is brought about by Sen. Steube for basically taking away our home rule over our tree trimming,” Rogers said.

“We are writing to you to voice our opposition to SB 574 as drafted. We strongly encourage you to reach out to us and other constituents who are educated in the value of maintaining and enhancing tree canopy in our communities,” the letter says.

“We believe it is not a one-size-fits-all issue. Our local governments are best positioned to balance individual property rights with economic, ecological and social benefits of the trees in our community. Canopy coverage in the city of Bradenton Beach provides an annual value of $46,133 in air pollution removal and carbon removal/sequestration,” the letter says.

“I don’t understand some of the things Sen. Steube does,” Mayor John Chappie said. “Yes, there are some things the state and federal government need to do, but telling us how we can trim our trees in little old Bradenton Beach is not one of them.”

The commission authorized the Scenic WAVES letter and asked for a similar letter to be sent on its behalf.

 Anna Maria opposition

“I wonder how, with a clear conscience, he can sit in his gated community and decide that the state should regulate the tree canopy on Anna Maria Island,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said.

Planning and Zoning Board chair Jon Crane agrees.

“I am troubled by this proposed bill for a number of reasons. Municipalities understand why the preservation of some local trees is important to their constituents far better than Tallahassee does. The proposed bill will clearly lead to the indiscriminate removal of trees whenever it makes development cheaper and easier – and the environment be damned. The proposed bill would be one more step in the centralization of government. The proposed bill appears to benefit the Senator’s donors without regard for the wishes of his electorate. And by way of observation, the untrammeled development in the Senator’s district in Sarasota is creating a charmless, treeless concrete corridor,” Crane said.

In November, Anna Maria commissioners approved a request to remove two of the three grand trees located on an undeveloped lot on North Shore Drive. The commission insisted the third tree remain standing.

Anna Maria’s tree ordinance designates grand trees as those that are at least 24 inches around when measured at 4½ feet above ground, and removal of a grand tree requires commission approval.

Holmes Beach workshop

The city of Holmes Beach does not have a grand tree ordinance. Nor has its commission discussed Steube’s proposed legislation. Commission Chair Judy Titsworth became aware of the bill on Friday, when she received a legislative update from the Sen. Steube.

“It hasn’t come up at all, but we plan to workshop a proposed grand tree and native landscaping ordinance in March. We may have to move it up,” Titsworth said.

Steube’s position

Tree bill Greg Steube
Steube

The newsletter Steube distributed Friday featured his op-ed that was published in the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday.

“Many cities and counties in this state require you to obtain permission from them to cut down a tree, your tree, on your property. To me that flies in the face of your constitutional rights,” Steube wrote.

“I have heard from countless constituents who have been abused by these outrageous and unreasonable ordinances,” he added.

He mentioned a property owner being fined $16,000 for cutting down a dying tree without a permit, counties allowing pines to be cut down but not oaks, a citizen forced to replant and maintain a tree after he sold his property and another who was told to cut down a 50-year-old tree because it was an invasive species.

“My goal through this legislation is to stop the overreach of our counties and cities and return control back to the property owner pursuant to their inalienable rights provided in Florida’s Constitution,” Steube concluded.

Email the tree removal bill sponsors at:

Email Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano and Bradenton Rep. Jim Boyd at: