Atlantic Beach Tree Codes and Enforcement was the topic of Atlantic Beach Preservation’s meeting on Thursday, July 20, 2017 held at the Community Presbyterian Church in Atlantic Beach.
John Henry November Esq., Executive Director/General Counsel of the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute, spoke about the current codes and their enforcement as well as the newly formed Environmental Stewardship Committee.
Mr. November did an update on his current review of the city's Tree Code enforcement. He stated that he found that the Administrator of the Tree Code permitting process, Derek Reeves, is currently issuing permits properly. However, he did find an instance where a $10,000 mitigation fee had not been put into the Tree Mitigation Fund as required.
In response to this finding, Mr. November stated:"The city commission has promised that there will be an independent review by a non member of the Planning Department. They are going to go through ever permit that has been issued since the Tree (Preservation) Board was disbanded and do an analysis to see if the money has been put into the fund." This was also supported by Interim City Manager, Kevin Hogencamp, Mr. November said.
One of Atlantic Beach Preservation's members had discovered that the city had been "streamlining" the code by not issuing tree permits and then waiting until the Certificate of Occupancy to make sure the proper mitigation is completed. According to Mr. Reeves:
"It has become the City’s practice to allow those building new homes to do the removal without actually issuing a permit with the contractor/owner knowing that they will not get a Certificate of Occupancy until the required mitigation has been resolved."
After learning about this practice, the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute along with concerned citizens had petitioned the city on April 12, 2017 requiring the city officials to comply with the city's tree ordinances. After receiving this letter, Interim City Manager Kevin Hogencamp issued an edict that Mr. Reeves adhere to all of the tree codes.
In his review, Mr. November found that the "streamlining" had been part of the Planning Department's practice before Mr. Reeves began those responsibilities in 2009, but it hadn't been such a common occurrence. Although the codes have been followed after the April 12th "edict", Mr. November found that many of the tree applications that were already in process didn't get addressed. Mr. Reeves also didn't avail himself to resources that had been available to him to complete the back log. In short, Mr. November stated: "He (Mr.Reeves) didn't do his job and he needs to fix it going forward."
Going forward, Mr. November stressed the importance of improving our Tree Codes. He recommended six important changes.
- Increase the mitigation fee for those who have not applied for a tree permit
- All legacy trees should require a higher mitigation fee
- Require a fee if the Tree Permit has not been posted
- Penalties for improper pruning which kills trees
- Require all tree services to be certified by the city
- Review Neptune Beach's Tree Code that states that a heritage tree can not be cut down without a review.
The complete presentation is available through our recording on Soundcloud by going to: https://soundcloud.com/user-951731218/audio-07-20-2017-18-47-26 or click here.