Holmes Beach commissioners look into adding tree protections

A city recognized by Tree City USA should do better.

Commissioner Carol Soustek wants the city to find ways to protect trees.

A short supply of shade in Holmes Beach prompted Soustek to bring up discussion of tree protection regulations May 9.

“Our city is kind of trying to be the Tree City of the USA but we’re not protecting anything here,” Soustek said.

Construction of a single-family home in Holmes Beach does not include permitting for tree removal.

“They don’t have to apply for any kind of landscaping permits to knock down these trees,” Soustek said.

Tree City USA is a program under the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation to green up communities by managing and expanding trees. In order to achieve Tree City USA status, cities must meet four core standards of urban forestry management: “maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capital on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day,” according to arborday.org.

Some cities have protections for trees with a trunk circumference of 24 inches or more. Tampa has an aggressive tree-protection ordinance, Soustek said.

“You gotta beg to remove their live oaks,” she said.

All trees 5 inches and larger in trunk diameter are protected in Tampa and require tree removal and site clearing permits, according to tampagov.net.

Building official Jim McGuinness said tree protection is “somewhat of a toothless lion” because of a single-family exemption, which he said is where most of the trees are in the city.

He added the commissioners should remove the exemption for single-family dwellings if they hope to save trees, because his department is receiving a lot of demolition permits for existing dwellings.

“The pace is really picking up,” McGuinness said. “There might be a beautiful tree there.”

Commissioner Marvin Grossman said the city could require a survey of trees and add a replacement factor to the current ordinance.

“They have to allow you to build, but you have to replace them with something, not just a palm tree,” Grossman said.

Mayor Bob Johnson said protecting the trees should be a commission goal.

“I was surprised that you could just take down any tree as I listened here today,” Johnson said. “I think that we have a number of people on this island that can provide good input.”

City attorney Patricia Petruff recommended the commission determine standards for tree protection by gathering examples from other cities.

McGuinness recommended commissioners consider the criteria in Venice’s tree-protection ordinance, which requires a tree removal permit for new construction.

Anna Maria has “tightened up” on landscape and tree standards, Soustek said.

The Anna Maria ordinance was updated in 2014 to include requiring a landscape plan that meets certain criteria submitted with all building permits prior to issuing a certificate of occupancy. For residential property, each plan must include at least six native trees with a minimum of three different tree species and at least nine native shrubs with a minimum of three different shrub species.

The commission will meet next at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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