FBCC amending Tree Ordinance to provide more protection, increased fines for violators

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 10, 2020

[Note that the Resolution erroneously located this tree at 112 S. 10th Street, when it is actually located on property at 116 S. 10th Street.  Although city officials were notified of the error prior to official action, the mistake was not corrected in time to meet the agenda deadline.  Resolution 2020-41, according to City Clerk Caroline Best, is being amended to reflect a scrivener error and will not need to return to the City Commission for approval.  The FO article below has been corrected to reflect the correct address.]

The Fernandina Beach City Committee (FBCC) unanimously passed two measures relating to trees in the City at their April 7, 2020 Regular Meeting.

Newly designated Heritage Tree at 116 S. 10th Street

The first item — Resolution 2020-41 — approved the application of a private property owner to designate a Heritage Tree for a live oak on her property at 116 S. 10th Street.  The tree meets the criteria required for heritage tree designation as defined in the Land Development Code, Section 4.05.15.  The City’s certified arborist evaluated the tree to determine that it is in good condition and health and at the present time measures 49.5” Diameter at Breast Height (DBH).

On behalf of the Amelia Tree Conservancy (ATC) Margaret Kirkland emailed the City with support for this Resolution, adding:  “We would like to see more homeowners propose trees on their property for Heritage Tree designation as this is one of our best tools for saving the trees that are an important part of the character of our island (sense of place). It is also an excellent tool for educating the public about the importance of our trees for our quality of life and the sustainability of the island. Both ATC and the City need to do more to promote this tool.”

The second item — Ordinance 2020-11 — was approved on First Reading.  It will require a public hearing and a Second Reading before it can be adopted.  This proposed Ordinance provides updates to the City’s established tree protection requirements. These efforts are undertaken to address the City Commission’s established goal to increase its tree canopy by 5% by 2024 and to consider penalty fees in addition to restoration plan requirements.

This effort provides direction for oversight and enforcement of the City’s tree protection provisions. The revisions proposed were not contemplated as part of a major review process, instead they serve to address specific needs.

The code amendments, recommended both by City Staff and the Planning Advisory Board, include the following:

  1. Lower the replacement exemption for residential, non-residential and mixed use properties
  2. Eliminate preservation credits
  3. Require an approved inspection of the tree protection area by a Certified Arborist, contracted to and selected and managed by the City prior to all clearing activity.  For subdivision and non-residential projects, a Certified Arborist is required to be present for clearing activities and must provide an affidavit attesting to compliance of tree removal permits and installation of protective fencing once clearing activities are complete.
  4. Individual residential property owners of a single lot of record will be fined $1,000 for the fiirst unauthorized tree removal violation, subject to additional fines, and required to comply with restoration planting criteria.  The fine increases to $5,000 for multi-family, subdivisions, mixed use and non-residential landowners.
  5. Fines scale to the size of the tree removed without authorization, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000.  The fine for unauthorized removal of a Heritage Tree is $50,000.
  6. The City Manager will have authority to assess significantly increased fines if s/he determines that implementation of a restoration plan cannot replace the quality and screening functions of the destroyed or removed trees.
  7. Stop work orders may be issued to any person, firm, owner, contractor, or agent performing construction who violates or falls to comply with any provision of the City’s tree protection ordinance.

The FBCC may accept, reject or modify any of the proposed amendments at Second Reading, when a public hearing must be held.  To read the entire proposed Ordinance, click here.

The ATC has been working closely with the City to strengthen the existing Tree Protection Ordinance. Via written comments to the FBCC, the ATC endorsed the proposed amendments, adding this comment:  

“We did have one concern: We are all aware that most future development in Fernandina Beach will be infill—either by residents hiring an architect and builder or by developers and builders who specialize in this type of infill. Some of the future building will be on undeveloped parcels, while other building will be redevelopment. We need to be clear which of these types of situations are covered in each section we are focusing on and which section relates exclusively to subdivisions or PUDs. We were assured by Ms. Gibson in the Feb. 6 PAB meeting that these sections under discussion and the amendments would apply to all of these cases.”

When contacted for comments on this ordinance earlier today, spokesperson Margaret Kirkland replied:

“In terms of determining tree value (LDC amendments), we feel that the costs for neighbors and the community at large (City or County) are far greater than any of us have previously realized. For example, we have seen cases where development has resulted in flooding in adjacent parcels, an expense for the homeowners or neighborhood and a potential cost for the City or County (not to mention loss of property value). There are other examples like loss of storm protection. All of these are difficult to quantify. Appraisal experts have gradually expanded their focus in recent years beyond the tree itself, but they haven’t gotten this far yet. While it isn’t incorporated in any of the appraisal methods currently used, it is particularly important that we move toward investigating this further and developing relevant expertise, particularly because of our vulnerability on a barrier island. “

For more information about the ATC or to read all their comments and concerns on this proposed ordinance, contact them via Facebook or their website .

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.