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DeSantis signs bill weakening Tampa’s tree ordinance

The state law undercuts many of the protections approved by the City Council after years of conflicts, then hard-won compromises between builders and advocates.
Tampa's tree ordinance was largely gutted by a law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday.
Tampa's tree ordinance was largely gutted by a law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday.
Published Jun. 27, 2019
Updated Jun. 27, 2019

TAMPA--The word spread through Tampa’s tree loving community quickly Thursday: The city’s tree ordinance had been buzzed way back by the stroke of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pen.

The governor signed a new law that bans cities from regulating the removal, replanting, pruning or trimming of a tree on private property if a licensed arborist determines the tree poses a danger. Tampa city attorneys said the legislation removes the city’s arborists from the role of verifying dangerous trees and being involved in the pruning of trees through the permitting process.

They also fear that trees will be allowed to be cut down without any recourse from the city.

READ MORE: Tampa’s tree ordinance in peril

The decision disappointed advocates like Joe Chillura, the former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County Commissioner, who wrote the city’s original protections for its tree canopy back in the early 1970s.

For more than a year, builders and advocates had gathered in living rooms and coffee shops to hammer out a compromise that allowed more flexibility to site a house in exchange for more protections for trees. They hailed their efforts as a “historic compromise."

Thursday’s action erases much of that.

“It’s beyond disappointing,” Chillura said.

READ MORE: Historic Compromise reached on Tampa’s trees

Chillura, Chelsea Johnson and other activists had urged DeSantis to veto House Bill 1159. Instead, it was one of 15 bills his office announced he had signed on Wednesday.

Mayor Jane Castor said last week she had not reached out to DeSantis about the legislation. Castor is in Hawaii for a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering.

Johnson said local municipal oversight had protected Tampa’s urban forest for decades.

“We will continue to advocate for Tampa trees despite this disappointing setback. We hope that common sense and the public’s desire for--and appreciation of---our trees will offset the negative effects of the passing of this bill,” Johnson texted.





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