County advisory council members asked to work on new strategies to protect trees on development sites

County Commission also eliminates minimum requirement for length of travel way in the canopy road ordinance

News Leader photo
News Leader photo

On the same day they voted unanimously to eliminate the minimum length requirement for a segment of travel way to be designated a canopy road, the Sarasota County commissioners also proposed initiatives for an advisory board and their staff to encourage more nurturing and protection of trees in the community.

After hearing the annual presentation of the Sarasota Tree Advisory Council (STAC) during the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 17, Commissioner Charles Hines said he hears many complaints from county residents about how project sites are handled. For example, he said, “You have a 500-acre piece of property, and it just gets cleared, and people come in and say, ‘Why did [the developer] cut down all those trees?’”

Hines continued that he understands developers have to put down water and sewer lines on sites, often making it necessary for trees to be removed. Afterward, following the planting of new trees, he noted, “it takes a while for that canopy to grow.”

The county protects its grand trees, he pointed out, but he asked how staff and the board could provide incentives to developers to keep as many trees as possible on project sites. “I think it’s worth looking into,” Hines added, especially with so many new projects under way in the county.

“I think it’s a worthwhile challenge,” Vice Chair Al Maio said. Many, many years ago, Maio continued, it was not uncommon for developers to clear-cut pieces of land before submitting a tree survey of the site to the county. “They had a vacant piece of land. Very clever.”

He added, “Obviously, we don’t allow that anymore.”

Maio pointed out that a committee representing area developers meets regularly with county staff to review relevant issues. Perhaps, he said, County Administrator Tom Harmer could ask the members of that group to explore ideas that could be brought to the commissioners for consideration as incentives to developers to save more trees.

Commissioner Christine Robinson also asked STAC Chair Kevin Greene whether the advisory board members had reviewed the county’s landscaping ordinance to determine whether incentives could be provided in that document to promote the growth of canopy roads.

Greene said the STAC members had not undertaken such a review.

County Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
County Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

“It’s something I think is worth examining,” she told him.

During his presentation, Greene pointed out that the advisory council’s duties include recommending individual street and neighborhood planting projects, as well as priorities among them; nominating new canopy roads for County Commission consideration; and assisting county staff in the dissemination of public information.

On the list of STAC action this year, he continued, were the recommendation that the County Commission eliminate the minimum length requirement for canopy roads and the suggestion that the county apply for the Tree City USA Growth Award, which county staff did. The latter effort resulted in the county being honored.

As part of its initiatives for next year, Greene noted, the STAC members plan to continue outreach to residents to improve pruning practices, raise awareness about the economic and environmental benefits associated with trees and educate people about the value of trees as wildlife habitat.

Further, he pointed out, over-pruning of the Florida State Tree, the cabbage palm, is widespread in Sarasota County. “Previous educational efforts have not seemed to alleviate the situation,” he noted in his presentation. Having learned that other local government jurisdictions have stricter measures in place, Green said, the STAC is examining possible remedies to the Sarasota County situation.

The canopy road ordinance

Rachel A. Herman. News Leader photo
Rachel A. Herman. News Leader photo

Following Greene’s presentation, the County Commission held a public hearing on the proposed changes to the canopy road ordinance. With no member of the public appearing to offer comments, the commission voted quickly to eliminate the necessity that a canopy road have a minimum length of 660 feet.

However, the revised ordinance still will require minimum overhead coverage of 50 percent for a section of travel way to be considered for the designation. The revision does remove language making it necessary for that coverage to come from trees other than invasive species. However, the ordinance says a canopy road “shall consist of a minimum of 75 percent Native Plant species and Naturalized Plant species …”

The ordinance explains that the evaluation will be based on the coverage as a percentage of the overall road length, on the condition of the canopy and on the canopy’s composition.

Rachel A. Herman, an environmental planning manager for the county, pointed out that the changes will make it possible for more travel ways to be designated canopy roads.

The sun begins to set over a canopy road north of Webber Road. Rachel Hackney photo
The sun begins to set over a canopy road north of Webber Road. Rachel Hackney photo