More county segments could be eligible for Canopy Road designation

County Commission will hold a public hearing on Nov. 17 to consider allowing shorter roads to be included

Canopy Roads are found in various parts of Sarasota County. News Leader archive
Canopy Roads are found in various parts of Sarasota County. News Leader archive

On Nov. 17, people who would like to see shorter segments considered for Canopy Road protection in Sarasota County will have an opportunity to make their views known to the County Commission.

A public hearing has been scheduled that day on a recommendation by the Sarasota Tree Advisory Council (STAC) to make roads less than 660 feet in total length eligible for the Canopy Road designation. The discussion is on the morning agenda of the meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m. in the Commission Chambers in the County Administration Center at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

During a special County Commission meeting on July 14, Commissioner Christine Robinson brought up a letter from the STAC regarding the proposed change. She then sought support from her colleagues to have staff prepare for the board a detailed report on the request.

The resulting vote was unanimous.

On Aug. 27, the report from Tom Polk, director of Planning and Development Services, and Rachel A. Herman, manager of environmental planning, pointed out that the current county ordinance governing canopy roads requires them to be at least one-eighth of a mile in length. Of the 24 miles of designated Sarasota County Canopy Roads, the report continues, the average segment is 1,764 feet, or about one-third of a mile.

The steps for a road to gain the designation, the report explains, are “a nomination, a staff evaluation of the tree canopy over the road and whether its characteristics meet the standards of the ordinance,” a public meeting involving the affected property owners and then County Commission approval.

After a road segment receives the designation, the report says, trees within the zone — those located 15 feet laterally from the edge of pavement to the adjacent private property — are protected from unauthorized trimming or removal. “Maintaining a clear zone 16 feet above the pavement surface for vehicle clearance is an exempt activity,” the report notes.

Trimming or removal of a tree within a Canopy Road Zone requires the issuance of a county permit, and the latter action is “dependent upon avoidance and minimization of impacts to the tree(s),” the report adds.

During the preceding months, the report says, the STAC referred several candidate roads to county Environmental Protection Division (EPD) staff for evaluation. Most of those were private roads and, therefore, not eligible for Canopy Road designation, the report explains. However, one of them, Quarterhorse Road near Proctor Road, is county-maintained. Nonetheless, the report notes, that road is only 330 feet long. While it met the other criteria of the ordinance, the report says, its length made it ineligible for the designation.

The report also points out that 12 other jurisdictions in the state have a Canopy Road program. Most of those do not specify a minimum length, the report adds, “though they do have standards for coverage and native composition (example: 50% cover with native or naturalized tree species).” Additionally, the average minimum length of the designated roads is about one mile, the report continues. In Leon County, eight Canopy Roads have a combined length of 78 miles, the report says.

In the City of North Port, the minimum road segment for consideration is 400 feet.

A map shows the Canopy Roads in the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A map shows the Canopy Roads in the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Revising the Sarasota County ordinance

On Nov. 17, the proposed ordinance revisions the Sarasota County Commission will review will delete the minimum road length. However, the ordinance will continue to call for a minimum of 50 percent overhead coverage on the section of travel way “as measured by branching, Drip Line, shadows, and other visual cues.”

The revised ordinance includes the current provision that the evaluation “shall be based on Tree canopy coverage as a percentage of overall Travelway length, on canopy condition and composition.”

The stipulation that at least 75 percent of the trees represent native or naturalized species also remains in the proposed revision.