You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Seminole looks at stronger tree protection rules

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 5/29/2021 Martin E. Comas, Orlando Sentinel
a tree in a forest: Longleaf pines and oak trees tower over visitors at a public park. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel Longleaf pines and oak trees tower over visitors at a public park.

To restrict developers from clear-cutting every tree on a tract of land before erecting a subdivision of new homes or shopping centers, Seminole has started updating portions of its land development rules to provide broader arbor protections and protect tree canopies around the county.

As part of that process, Seminole commissioners are considering hiring an urban forester who would be charged with recommending tree preservation conditions on rezoning requests, applications for land use changes and preliminary plans for new residential developments.

“What I continually hear all the time is citizens calling me up and saying: ‘You know, we had this beautifully wooded area and now all of a sudden, it’s stripped completely. They didn’t save any trees and the trees had been there for a long time,’” Commission Chairman Lee Constantine said. “There’s got to be a better way than just cutting down every tree on a piece of land.”

Seminole has long had rules for removing trees for developments greater than five acres, including replacing or relocating trees. But county officials are now looking at “more stringent requirements that would encourage more preservation of existing trees,” said Rebecca Hammock, Seminole’s director of development services at a recent commission meeting.

Trees provide shade, wind resistance and moderate temperatures within neighborhoods and parking lots, according to the text of the new regulations. Still, county officials said they want to strike a balance between allowing development and maintaining good arbor practices that support healthy trees.

Under the proposals, a county permit would be required for the removal of any tree with a trunk diameter of six inches in diameter or greater and four and a half feet above the ground on properties greater than two acres. The current ordinance is eight inches in diameter and properties greater than five acres.

Also, “reasonable efforts should be made to preserve specimen trees” — such as live oaks and magnolias with a trunk diameter greater than 24 inches. Unless the tree stands in the way of the installation of utility lines or the construction of a building.

In general, specimen trees removed must be replaced with a tree of double the cumulative caliper. So, a magnolia tree with a trunk diameter of 24 inches could be replaced with two new trees with diameters of 12 inches each.

Non-specimen trees, other than pine trees, would be replaced at a ratio of one to one. Canopy trees used as replacements must be at least 10 feet high and have a diameter of at least three inches. Palm trees could not account for more than 20% of the required replacement trees.

Commissioner Jay Zembower said Seminole should protect the southern yellow pine or longleaf pine, which are indigenous to the Southeastern United States and once used in Florida to produce turpentine oil.

“The southern yellow pine is near and dear to my heart,” Zembower said. “For those folks that want palm trees, you go down south on I-95 and you can have all of them you want…They’re just not Seminole County.”

An urban forester hired by the commission also would implement a tree planting and management plan for the county and coordinate public education programs for proper tree care and preservation. An urban forester also would check for diseased or dead trees on county property to prevent them from falling on a home or other structure.

Currently, the board of county commissioners is the designated urban forester with recommendations from county staff.

“We’re getting into a very technical realm that we need to have an expert that can tell us which trees can best be saved and which can be removed,” Zembower said. “I’m personally not comfortable with a staff member making that decision. I’d rather have somebody that has the credentials.”

The proposed tree regulations will be part of the county’s new land development regulations scheduled to be presented to the county commission for approval by the end of the year. It also would include regulations and requirements of canopy trees planted by developers along streets in a new subdivision.

“We understand that it’s private property rights,” Constantine said. “But at the same time, trees are very valuable, and we should do everything we can to protect them.”

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon