City Manager’s Weekly Comments – Trees

By Dale Martin
September 16, 2022

Dale Martin

As the current fiscal year nears its conclusion (Sept. 30), City officials and staff prepare for the opportunities and challenges for the new fiscal year. The most critical component is completing the annual budget. The final public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 6:00 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers. Following the public hearing and any revisions to the proposed budget, the City Commission will vote to adopt the budget for the 2023 Fiscal Year.

Early in the fiscal year, the City Commission must consider its legislative priorities for the coming year. Legislative priorities are City Commission requests to the local delegation (State Senator and State Representative) for consideration in next year’s State budget (although requests are not necessarily limited to fiscal requests). The State’s fiscal year is July-June, slightly different than the City’s (and the County’s and the School Board’s) fiscal year. With the departure of Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Cord Byrd, the City looks forward to beginning new relationships with their successors (to be determined in November) as part of this legislative process. The Florida legislature does not convene next year until March, giving ample time for legislative priority consideration.

Despite beginning the discussion of possible legislative priorities, a critical request has been made informally by the City Commission: the repeal, or significant amendment, to Florida Statutes Section 163.045, Tree Pruning, Trimming, or Removal on Residential Property.

Section 163.045 was born from House Bill (HB) 1159. As has been related to me, HB 1159 was introduced after a member of the legislature was cited by his hometown government for improper/illegal tree removal on his property. In a successful effort to demonstrate that the hammer of State government was bigger than that of local government, HB 1159 was introduced and subsequently, as a Committee substitute, enacted by the State Legislature as Section 163.045, and was signed by the Governor on June 26, 2019 (and effective July 1, 2019)

The language of the statute reads, in part: “A local government may not require a notice, application, approval, permit, fee, or mitigation for the pruning, trimming, or removal of a tree on residential property if the property owner obtains documentation from an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture or a Florida licensed landscape architect that the tree presents a danger to persons or property.”

If a residential property owner wishes to remove a tree from his or her property, all that is needed is documentation from a certified arborist or landscape architect indicating that the tree presents a “danger” to persons or property. City staff cannot be required to be notified of such removal, be required to review the proposed removal, require a permit for such removal, or charge a fee for such removal.

The Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture recognized the significant role of certified arborists under Section 163.045. A position paper crafted by the Florida Chapter offered several comments in response to the new law, one of which stated, “The Florida Legislature including the house, senate, and governor, with support from the insurance and construction industries, now trust ISA Certified Arborists more than local government and any other Florida green industry group to help residents make the right decision with regard to their trees.”

The position paper advocates for enhanced education of its Certified Arborists, including, as part of a Member Awareness Campaign, a presentation entitled, “Just Because you Are Certified, Doesn’t Mean You are Qualified.” Perhaps a local tree removal company should consider reviewing that presentation.

The following correspondence was presented to the City following a property owner’s tree removal request: Arborist Report, July 27, 2022; Subject: Remove 1 beautiful, enormous live oak. [Property Owner] has shared space with this huge live oak for a couple of decades or more. There was maybe a time when she liked the tree, but that was so long ago that the memory has been forgotten. As far as the condition, this tree is in excellent health, and it has good integrity. Unfortunately, the tree is getting too big for its britches, and it’s all up in her personal space. The tree argues that it was here first. Even so, it has never paid one cent for the land, property taxes, electricity, water, sewer, cable tv, etc. It’s basically living here for free, eating up all the food, and making a big mess! What’s worse, it’s constantly pushing hard on the back right corner foundation of the house, and it’s only a couple inches from the roof. I hate to vote in favor of the house on such a beautiful tree, but something’s got to give. As many home owners have been doing this week, [Property Owner] has generously offered to give this tree to ANY homeowner who wants it right beside their house! It would need to be placed in a similar or closer spot to the recipient’s house. This is our best solution for saving this tree. [Property Owner] would also consider swapping property with a concerned citizen who wants it in their yard. The property would need to be of similar or greater value, and the location would need to meet or exceed her expectations. Please check out the photos below, and let me know if you need a more thorough explanation. Otherwise, I’m recommending removal due to the risk it presents to her house. Please contact me if you have any questions about this report, or contact our main office.

That report satisfies the language of Section 163.045.

A subsequent effort to repeal the law failed, and resulted only in minor modifications to the law, leaving the restrictions on local government to protect its urban forest.

The City Commissioners will likely enthusiastically request the local delegation to lead the effort to repeal Section 163.045.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Tom smith
Tom smith(@high-n-dry)
1 year ago

Let me state this enthusiastically that special interest should not dictate what or how I enjoy my 60 trees. Should the time come when they become a safety issue, for me, my neighbors or my home; I do not want to grovel or ask for permission to remove said tree. When you start maintaining my trees and paying my taxes I will then consider your input.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr. (@guest_66038)
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom smith

Golf courses for all.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr. (@guest_66037)
1 year ago

Time for those running for Mayor address this, especially since one candidate’s father ran the Florida Senate when this bill was passed.

Margaret Kirkland
Margaret Kirkland(@kirkland-mrk)
1 year ago

No, the tree has not been living there for free. It has been moderating temperature, thus lowering heating and cooling costs and improving comfort. It has been managing stormwater, preventing the property owner or the City from having significant stormwater management costs. This is particularly important with sea level rise and higher water table levels. It may have been protecting the property owner’s home from damage from storm winds. Research has also demonstrated that trees definitely increase property value. Often, it is the entire community that benefits from these services provided by our trees, particularly if they are unusually large.

If this tree is damaging the foundation or the roof, perhaps the owner needs to hire a good ISA-certified arborist to identify the options available. It may be possible to improve matters with strategic pruning, or it may be that the tree cannot remain.

Robert Prager
Robert Prager (@guest_66043)
1 year ago

Or maybe an engineer can design a way to bridge and underpin the corner and save the tree. It might even be less expensive and invasive.

Robert Prager
Robert Prager (@guest_66045)
1 year ago

Or an engineer to bridge the corner and underpin the foundation and keep the tree. This might even be less intrusive.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_66049)
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Prager

Less intrusive perhaps, but at what cost? And who pays? Will the Tree Conservancy? Doubtful. Or, as a previous commenter suggested, the community? Also doubtful.

Robert Prager
Robert Prager (@guest_66063)
1 year ago
Reply to  William Smith

I haven’t observe the conditions. The cost may be about equal. It s not inexpensive to correctly and safely remove the tree from against and under a foundation. The corner may need underpinning and repaired after the tree is removed. The homeowner is responsible for the cost regardless of the method. I suggest exploring both options and maybe others. Pick the one with best value. It seems that our first reaction is to cut down the “offending tree” without ever considering other opportunities.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
1 year ago

“Just Because you Are Certified, Doesn’t Mean You are Qualified.”  That quote should pertain to not only “ arborists”, but also to politicians, legislators of all stripes, and to any swinging Richard who claims to be a tree surgeon. First of all and most importantly, nobody with one eye and half sense should ever cut down or do harm to any Live Oak if it’s not a direct threat to human life. Period. People living in this area should either get a clue or get the hell out of here.