The legal battle over more than two dozen trees felled at a Tampa mobile home park just ended in a court decision.
The tree cutting business will be fined $234,000, according to a City of Tampa memo.
The 2019 tree-clearing at the Life O’ Reilly mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard took down 28 trees, including nine large old oaks considered “grand” trees.
The incident — which dismayed tree advocates and was called an “egregious violation” by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor — came on the heels of a new state law barring local governments from regulating tree removal.
The city originally sought $420,000 each in fines from the park’s owner as well as Miller & Sons LLC, the company whose arborists signed off on the tree-clearing. It was considered the largest such fine in Tampa history.
While the mobile home park paid a fine and made an agreement with the city, the tree cutter pushed back.
At the heart of the legal argument was the property upon which the trees stood.
The then-new law barred local governments from requiring an application, permit or fee to remove a dangerous tree on residential property. The aging mobile home park — on a prime piece of South Tampa real estate between Bayshore Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway — was zoned commercial-general, not residential.
A representative of the mobile home park’s owner said then that people had lived at the park for decades, and the tree clearing was legal.
A code enforcement special magistrate on the case ruled in 2020 that Tampa’s tree ordinance had been violated and imposed a $234,000 fine for Miller & Sons.
“My reaction is — ouch!” Jonathan Lee, the arborist for the company, said then.
The decision was appealed to circuit court and then the Second District Court of Appeal, both of which upheld the magistrate’s ruling. That effectively ends appeals in the matter, the attorney handling the case for the city wrote in an email to Tampa officials.
“Disappointing,” said Anthony Sabatini, an attorney and former state legislator who was a co-sponsor of the state law and who represented Miller & Sons at the appeals court. The law meant any residence, not just single-family homes, he said. “The court clearly got it wrong.”
Sabatini said they could pursue legal action against the “grossly large” amount of the fine.
“We’re not done fighting yet,” he said.
On Wednesday, Mayor Castor applauded the court’s decision.
“I hope this sends a very strong message to everyone that the City of Tampa cherishes our tree canopy, will work hard to protect it and won’t tolerate the illegal destruction of protected trees,” she said via text. “Tampa needs more trees, not fewer, and everyone should think long and hard before cutting corners to remove beautiful trees.”