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Developer had Clearwater okay to fell hundreds of trees for new subdivision

CLEARWATER — Passing motorists likely couldn't help but notice the destruction.

Big piles of downed and splintered trees dotted what had been a shady horse pasture on the north side of Union Street west of McMullen-Booth Road.

Of the 470 trees that once stood on the expansive property — many of them large live oaks — only 55 to 60 remain. The trees were cut down recently as construction begins on a 43-lot subdivision ironically named Majestic Oaks.

"I was appalled," said Louis Claudio, 60, of Safety Harbor, who said he has been driving past the property to and from work for 10 years. "The whole scene was a very nice, countryside, tranquil scene that is becoming more and more rare in Pinellas County."

"Unfortunately, to make this subdivision work, they had to remove trees," said Matt Anderson, who is the land resource specialist for the city of Clearwater.

Of the 410 or so trees that were removed, 336 of them required a city tree removal permit. Any tree with a trunk that is less than four inches in diameter, any palm tree with a trunk shorter than 10 feet and all invasive species can be removed without permits.

Many of the trees that were cut down were live oak trees that received poor ratings, Anderson said. Trees are rated on a scale from zero to six, with zero being a dead tree and six being a perfect specimen. However, the seven highest-rated oak trees on the property, all rated 4.0 or higher, were cut down because they weren't compatible with the development blueprint.

Trees rated below a 3.0 are considered hazardous, Anderson said, though sometimes a tree can be brought up to a higher standard by pruning away dead branches. Most of the saved trees on the property were oaks that rated between 2.5 and 3.5.

The developer, Deeb Family Homes, will be required to replace some of the trees that were destroyed, but not necessarily with trees the same size.

The city requires that on land zoned for residential use, each lot must maintain a certain number of native shade trees such as oaks, depending on the square footage of the property. Forty-two of the Majestic Oaks lots are between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet, requiring six shade trees each. One lot is more than 15,001 square feet, meaning that property will have eight shade trees.

Replacement shade trees must have a height of at least 10 feet overall and a 2.5-inch caliper, according to code. Caliper is an industry term to describe tree trunk diameter four inches above the ground.

Alternatively, a homeowner could plant two accent trees, which is equivalent to one shade tree in the city code. Accent trees have mature heights of less than 35 feet. Replacement accent trees must be at least 8 feet tall and have a 2-inch caliper.

Three native palm trees also are equivalent to one shade tree, so long as the palm trunks are at least 10 feet tall.

Anderson said the equivalency system encourages diversity among replacement trees. A lot, therefore, could have three shade trees, four accent trees and three palm trees, which would equal six shade trees in the city's eyes.

"We're hoping that because oaks are great and we love oaks in the city of Clearwater, that they will choose to plant oaks, but we're encouraging species diversity," Anderson said.

Claudio said his concern is "the loss of more greenspace to development, but some people would call that progress. Not necessarily me."

Calls to Deeb Family Homes were not answered by press time.

Josh Solomon can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or jsolomon@tampabay.com.

Developer had Clearwater okay to fell hundreds of trees for new subdivision 01/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 6:44pm]
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