No wrist slaps for illegally cutting down oak trees in Tampa | Editorial
City officials are looking into what happened on a 162-acre property.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

Tampa has long prided itself on preserving its lush oak canopy. So when the trees — along with much of the other vegetation — got hacked down on the Isles at Old Tampa Bay property, people noticed. Thankfully, so has the city, which is investigating what happened.

The 162-acre property on S West Shore Boulevard sat largely idle for years until recently, when the developers moved forward with their plan for about 350 residential units, including 130 luxury townhomes and 67 large "estate lots.'' City officials have now stopped work on the site, citing violations involving wetlands protections and buffers, failure to obtain permits for site clearing and removal of grand oaks and other protected trees, reported Tampa Bay Times correspondent Susan Taylor Martin. The city appears to be taking the investigation seriously, which is a good first step.

Well-known developers DeBartolo Development of Tampa and Avanti Properties Group of Winter Park have admitted that they did not have the right permits to move forward with their plans. They have also said in a statement that they want to be good neighbors. But the mea culpa can’t bring back the irreplaceable grand oaks.

Whether this was an honest mix-up or a convenient contrivance to rid the property of the trees, city officials cannot let the developers get off lightly. A slap on the wrist will only encourage other developers to cut first and then claim ignorance or an oversight, knowing that the punishment will barely affect their bottom line. Illegally cutting down oaks within the city cannot be a routine cost of doing business. The punishment should sting financially, even for developers of multi-million dollar properties.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news