One of our board members began following the progress of a new home being built across the street from her. What first piqued her interest was the removal of most of the trees from the lot in late January. That was when she called the staff in the Department and asked if the developer/owner had a tree permit as required by our Atlantic Beach Codes.
In talking with our board member, the staff appeared to be reading from the tree permit and assured her that the trees that were removed had been authorized and there was nothing out of order. Staff did indicate that some mitigation fees would need to be paid.
At this point, she asked to see the request for mitigation and also a copy of the tree permit. She requested this in early February. She didn't get a reply so she went to the building department in early March to ask the staff for the mitigation plan for 317 8th Street. The staff didn't have a plan or a tree permit. Once again she sent the staff tasked with tree permits an email asking: "...if there is not a mitigation plan, the builder had the trees taken down after receiving your zoning review comments of 12/16 (emailed) and without city approval. This must be why I didn’t see the posting."
When staff finally replied, after 2 months of request from, staff stated that indeed that there never was a permit and that it had "become the City’s practice to allow those building new homes to do the removal without actually issuing a permit..." The staff member then concludes: “This is obviously not an ideal situation and the.... Interim City Manager recognizes this and is assessing ways to get us the staff needed to do everything by the code."
Atlantic Beach Preservation takes the staff’s actions very seriously. It would appear that the Planning Department has had a cavalier approach to our Tree Ordinances for some time. No wonder it is topic of most concern for Atlantic Beach residents. It has appeared that we were losing our tree canopy and now we know why. The city staff has not been abiding by our Atlantic Beach codes.
Along with many other citizens we would like there to be a full audit from the past 2 years of all requested (including those pending) and approved tree permits. This could be done using city staff working in conjunction with a citizen from the former Tree Conservation Board and perhaps an arborist. The citizens would be paid.
Second, we want a Tree Committee established within the Beautification and Natural Resources Committee.
We believe we need reinstatement of the former Tree Conservation Board. This board served Atlantic Beach for 20 years and ensured that the Tree Ordinance was enforced. This would be a chartered Board.
At this point, it appears that there should be a strengthening of the Tree Ordinance. It should have stronger mitigation fees. Currently developers/owners can easily afford the mitigation cost and clear cut their lots.
Atlantic Beach Preservation is also working with he Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida and their recent request that the City assure us that they will be upholding the city’s codes. That letter is published below.
To: The City of Atlantic Beach
Attn: Interim City Manager Kevin Hogencamp
From: John November Esq., Executive Director of the Public Trust
Re: The City’s Failure To Act in Compliance With City’s Tree Protection
The Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida and concerned citizens of Atlantic Beach are petitioning the City to provide formal assurances within 7 days of receipt of this letter that City officials will comply with the City’s tree protection ordinance. If we do not receive adequate assurances, we will bring a lawsuit to compel city officials to perform their non-discretionary duties as required by our tree ordinance.
Specifically, we would like to receive written assurances that the City is performing initial inspections as required by Sec. 23-24 (1) and that the City is enforcing the requirement that permits be posted as required by 23-23(g). We are requesting an assurance that the City will develop a protocol that will require that the permit be posted by the applicant promptly (perhaps within 3 days) upon issuance of the permit. The aforementioned ordinances read as follows:
Sec. 23-23. - Permits procedures. (g) Posting of permits. The permit shall be posted in a conspicuous and visible place at the front of the property by the applicant promptly after issuance. The permit shall remain posted on the property during all applicable tree and vegetation removal activity and until final inspection by the city. It is the responsibility of the applicant to maintain the permit in a clearly visible manner at all times.
Sec. 23-24. - Inspections and site preparation. Inspections. The following inspections shall be conducted in conjunction with all development activities subject to the requirement for a tree or vegetation removal permit.
(1)Initial inspection. The administrator shall conduct an initial inspection of the site prior to approval of any application.
Secondly, we are requesting a copy of the communication sent by City officials to the applicants for the property located at 825 Sherry Road that provided approval for trees to be removed without the aforementioned ordinance requirements (initial inspection and posting of permit) being satisfied by the applicant and the City. Additionally, is this the standard letter that has regularly been communicated with applicants after a tree permit has been received since we stopped doing initial inspections?
Thirdly, we are also requesting information about what official at the City decided that it would be City’s practice to not require initial inspections and the posting of permits on-site? We understand that the City is short staffed, but that does not excuse the City’s failure to comply with the ordinance.
Lastly, in order for these assurances to be considered adequate, we are requesting that the written assurance include a statement that the aforementioned code provisions and the remainder of the tree protection ordinance will be complied with by City officials in the future.
Please do not hesitate to call me at 904-525-3042 if you have any questions or would like to discuss.
s/ John November
John Henry November Esq.
Executive Director & General Counsel