Thursday, March 08, 2007

Trees and North Port

North Port is in south Sarasota County - it is one of the fastest growing areas of Florida. The following story highlights one of the growth issues:

Article published Mar 8, 2007 in the Sarasota Herald Tribune

NORTH PORT -- City hall insiders know it as the battle between "the tree people" and "the builders.

"The dispute is what you would expect: conserving vs. building. But this squabble isn't as simple as it sounds.

Not in a place where the transformation from a sleepy town into a booming community of big-box stores and $400,000 homes affects everyday life and where roads can't be built, repaired or widened fast enough.

Perhaps no issue better illustrates the friction between the people who think things are changing too fast and those who say development is the key to North Port's future than the yearlong effort to draft a tree ordinance.

Conservationists say they're trying to bring a responsible sense of environmental stewardship to the city.Builders and some city leaders view their efforts as unrealistic and a threat to North Port's economic engine.

And while some portray the conflict as environmentalists vs. builders, the city has not been on the sidelines. In 2002, it sent out mailers telling residents that a proposed tree protection law which assessed fees for protected trees removed during new development would weaken tree protection, not improve it.

"There's a misconception that every builder clear-cuts every lot that they can," said Paul Morgan of the North Port Contractors Association. "I think you've got some people who are very passionate about their trees and I can understand it to a point -- because I love trees.

"The finger-pointing began last year when the city decided the best way to quell the feud was to appoint an equal number of tree people and builders on the Blue Ribbon Ad-Hoc Tree Committee.

The eight-member board was asked to craft an ordinance that would set steeper fines for illegally clearing land and propose other preservation standards.

But what was intended to be a collaborative effort quickly fell apart when the builders quit the committee.

Instead of scrapping the committee, additional tree enthusiasts were added to replace the departed builders. Then, last month, the city commission dissolved the committee and directed city staff to draft an ordinance, a decision that has some tree committee members claiming the city never took them seriously in the first place.

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