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Tree cutting may bring $20,000 fine

Not since the mayor of this tiny town banned Satan has it been this hot.

Just as they had when Carolyn Risher issued her famous decree last fall, Inglis residents packed Town Hall Thursday morning for what some pitched as another round of good vs. evil.

The winner was clear, at least for now, but who is right and who is wrong remains a matter of opinion.

In a unanimous decision reached after a court-style hearing, the code enforcement board agreed that Jeff and Bunny Adams had violated town policy by clearing some 200 trees, mostly cypress, from their Sapp Street property without a permit.

The board put off issuing a fine until September, but the Adams family is bracing for the worst. The couple could be fined up to $100 for each tree, which would add up to about $20,000.

"I can't pay it. I won't. There is no question," Bunny Adams, 49, said after the hearing. She has already hired an attorney.

Adams, who lives in Crystal River but works at Perkins State Bank a few doors down from Town Hall, does not dispute that the trees were cut without a permit.

But she says she was never aware that she needed one, an assertion backed by her supporters. That's just not the way things work here, they say.

"I chose to live in the county not to have all the laws," said Adams' brother-in-law, John Adams.

The town said it had issued only a handful of permits in the past four years _ including one Wednesday _ and a fine has never been levied. In fact, the code enforcement board has not met for years.

Those circumstances have led some to point fingers at Bill Sinopoli, the town's code enforcement officer.

During testimony Thursday, Sinopoli said a man had come to his office in the early morning on July 1 complaining of extensive logging on Sapp Street. Sinopoli drove to the Adams property and ordered the work to stop at once.

"It looked exactly like Vietnam," Sinopoli said of the site in the first of several comments that would rile the audience.

(Later, he offered to swear on a Bible, given the abundance of Christians in the room. Two men rose in protest when Sinopoli described the warship Jeff Adams works on as the "Titanic.")

Not long after Sinopoli visited Sapp Street, Bunny Adams stopped by Town Hall and asked about getting a permit, which costs $1 for each tree removed. "Let's forget the issue," Sinopoli recalled telling Adams. Case closed, right?

Sinopoli said he decided to press the issue after receiving a "threat" of legal action by Jeff Adams. Adams' father, James Adams, also contacted Mayor Risher.

"I was going to let it slide, but they threatened to sue," Sinopoli said in an interview from his office.

He insisted he was only doing his job, which is to carry out the town's ordinances.

But some residents accused Sinopoli of choosy enforcement, saying he has a "vendetta" against the Adamses and other residents he does not like. Sinopoli scoffed at that notion.

"He's very selective. That's the problem," said Tom Thomas, who moved to Inglis three years ago and said he had encountered setbacks with putting a mobile home next to a commercial building.

The trouble over the Adams family trees has its origins in mobile home regulations, too. The Adamses recently purchased the 15 acres with plans to clear space for five mobile homes and put the revenue from the rent toward their retirement savings.

"My husband has put blood and sweat into that property," Bunny Adams said. "Literally _ a tree limb once got stuck in his eyeball."

Their dream began to evaporate when problems arose with the permitting of the mobile homes. Also, Inglis has moved to upgrade the standards of mobile homes, and Adams said it would be too costly to meet those requirements.

So the couple decided to sell the property as home lots. To make room, they began to clear the cypress.

_ Staff writer Alex Leary can be reached at (352) 564-3623 or learysptimes.com.

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