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Property owner cites new state law in grand tree removal, challenges Tampa tree code

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The City of Tampa’s tree code, and the millions of trees it protects, could be on the chopping block thanks to a newly-enacted state law that elevates private property rights.

That law was put to the test Monday as the owner of a South Tampa mobile home park opted to remove several trees from the property without permits from the city, much to the dismay of tree advocates in the neighborhood.

Last month, the owner of the mobile home park at 3011 W. Gandy Blvd gave the residents two weeks to move out. Monday, the trees were then issued eviction notices as the owner preps the land to be sold and developed.

Most trees in Tampa are protected under the city’s new tree code, passed by the city council earlier this year, and require permits for removal. Grand trees, or those measuring more than 34 inches in diameter, have extra protections.

However, a new state law that went into effect in July says property owners don’t need permission if an expert deems a tree is “at risk.”

Jonathan Lee is the certified arborist who came in and assessed the trees at 3011 W. Gandy. While some of the grand trees appeared healthy on the outside, he said their age and neglect was apparent under the surface. Lee pointed out at least one tree hollowed out inside due to rot, putting it at risk to fall.

“We see it all the time, trees that are presumably healthy, they fall and they kill people,” he said.

Lee says many, but not all, of the trees on the property were deemed to have varying degrees of risk. A couple were not deemed at risk and Lee says those are not at the chopping block at the moment.

Both Lee and Chelsea Johnson with tree advocacy group Tree Something, Say Something agree the new law state is vaguely worded, leaving the definition of “risky” trees open to interpretation. Johnson believes Monday’s tree removal was a gross misinterpretation of the expanded property rights.

“In six months, if these people get fined, we can’t put the trees back,” Johnson said, calling the grand trees “priceless.”

Lee acknowledged the removal of slightly problematic but otherwise healthy trees under the new law is a legitimate concern. However, he also maintains the mobile home park owner acted well within his rights to remove them.

Johnson fears the precedent it sets.

“It is not open season on trees,” she said.

The City of Tampa did not return 8 On Your Side’s request for comment as of Monday night.

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