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Sarasota tree ordinance
Sarasota Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2017 2 weeks ago

City dives deeper into tree issues

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After builders and architects criticized the city’s tree ordinance, officials hope an advisory board can sort through any issues in the existing regulations.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

On Monday, several leading figures from Sarasota’s development and design community attended a City Commission meeting to say the tree ordinance in place is too onerous — and a new regulation the city was considering would be even worse.

For nearly two years, the city has worked with residents concerned that an increase in development has lead to the removal of valuable parts of the urban tree canopy. The commission approved a series of stronger regulations last year, changes that have become a source of frustration for builders and planners.

There was a long list of complaints at Monday’s meeting. The city was taking a myopic approach, focusing too much on individual trees and not enough on how to create a well planned canopy, architect Michael Halflants said. The regulations often fail to draw a distinction between valuable trees and trees of poor quality, said Steve Ellis, owner of custom home company My Green Buildings.

Members of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association said the regulations discouraged new projects and hurt homeowners’ property values. And Christine Robinson, executive director of the Argus Foundation, told the commission to take stock of the volume of issues that were brought up Monday.

“How did this get to this point, and why do you have so many people in the room here today?” Robinson said.

The commission decided the city should take the time to thoroughly consider those questions. The board rejected the most controversial proposal under consideration Monday, which would require developers to mitigate any removed trees inch-for-inch, based on diameter at breast height.

It also voted unanimously to begin the process of creating a citizen-led advisory board to deal with tree-related issues, with the goal of devising new regulations that are less controversial.

Arlington Park resident Nathan Wilson has been a leading advocate for a stronger tree protection ordinance, and he was pleased with the outcome of Monday’s meeting. The city did approve one new regulation, which allows building to plant trees on private property within a neighborhood — if there are any volunteers — to mitigate for the impact of their project.

Wilson also saw the presence of the development community as a good thing, even if they were upset about regulations. As the city has approved previous changes to the tree ordinance, there were few voices from builders sharing their thoughts.

Wilson hopes that now, with an advisory board coming together, both sides will be able to work collaboratively toward a solution.

“I’m not a builder; I don’t know the problems they’re having,” Wilson said. “I just know the problems I’m having. I think it’s great if we all get together and work it out.”

In other action at Monday’s commission meeting:

  • The board voted unanimously to begin the process of renaming Pineapple Park for Paul Thorpe. Dozens of residents showed up to advocate for honoring Thorpe, whose contributions during more than four decades in Sarasota have earned him the nickname “Mr. Downtown.”

    Staff is preparing a formal resolution to change the name of the park, located at Pineapple Avenue and Lemon Avenue, for the June 19 commission meeting.
  • The commission canceled its search for artwork at the State Street parking garage following concerns regarding a potential conflict of interest.

    ​The city demoted and docked the salary of three employees, including Parking Manager Mark Lyons, after they failed to inform the Public Art Committee that one of the final proposals for the garage project came from Lyons’ son-in-law.

    The commission directed staff to put out another call to artists for proposals for artwork within the garage.
  • In a 3-2 vote, the commission decided to go forward with an effort to recoup legal fees from Citizens for Sunshine following the conclusion of the lawsuit against former Commissioner Susan Chapman.

    Commissioners expressed a desire to push back against Citizens for Sunshine, which attempted to expand the scope of the state’s open meeting laws in the suit against Chapman, according to City Attorney Robert Fournier. But Fournier and Chapman’s Attorney, Thomas Schults, acknowledged the odds of recouping the nearly $400,000 in legal fees the city has spent are low, because Citizens for Sunshine has claimed it has no assets.
  • The commission appointed architect Damien Blumetti and neighborhood leader Kathy Kelley Ohlrich to join the Planning Board.

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