Tuesday, September 25, 2018
  • Bay Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A truce on Tampa’s trees? It looks likely.

Plenty of people at Thursday’s Tampa City Council meeting said what was happening was historic.

For decades, builders and tree advocates had been foes, battling over the city's tree canopy.

Advocates said builders wanted to weaken the city’s nearly half-century old tree ordinance to make it easier to chop down trees, especially on smaller lots, to build houses.

Builders said even a tree smack dab in the middle of a lot was expensive and time-consuming to remove, with a review board making the final call. They wanted to streamline the process.

On Thursday, a deal looked done.

Neighborhood groups, including Tree Something, Say Something, backed a compromise that allowed trees to be saved by adjusting setbacks on other parts of a lot. And they backed a plan to keep better track of a city trust fund set up to keep money from builders who cut down trees on lots that don't have enough space to plant a replacement.

Builders praised advocates' willingness to compromise. They urged council members to take action instead of waiting for a complete overhaul of the ordinance, scheduled for early next year.

City Council members listened.

"We have to take advantage and strike while the iron is hot," said council member Luis Viera. "It's like Miami and Havana coming together. It's a big deal."

A draft ordinance would need to be sent to the Hillsborough County City County Planning Commission for review. A new ordinance covering removal and replacing trees as well as a mandate to require better accounting of trust fund money could be ready by November.

Assistant City Attorney Kristin Mora asked council members for more time to read a draft ordinance submitted at the meeting by builders and advocates.

Council members gave her one week, scheduling a vote for Sept. 6.

Four council members will be leaving because of term limits in May. Two of them, Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, are running for mayor. All six members present (Yvonne Yolie Capin was absent due to illness) had clearly tired of grappling with an issue that has dragged on for years and consumed a lot of workshop time this year.

"It's got to come to an end," said council member Charlie Miranda.

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