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  1. Opinion

Column: Don't tamper with Tampa tree ordinance

Published Apr. 7, 2017

Forty-five years ago as a Tampa City Council member, I worked with the Hillsborough County Planning Commission to develop a tree ordinance for the city. After almost one month of public hearings, debates and committee sessions, the ordinance was finally adopted by the City Council and signed by Mayor Dick Greco in June 1972.

The significance of preserving trees is twofold: aesthetic endurance and the ecological value of maintaining a quality of life for coming generations. A developer friend concurred with the importance of tree preservation but lamented the fact that a law had to be written to guarantee environmental preservation.

Ideally, man should police himself when the subject of ecology is presented, but I suppose the reason man has not planned ahead for environmental protection is as simple as original sin: the temptation to save money at the expense of nature. Thus the case for a tree ordinance.

Yet now the tree ordinance is at risk. The Mayor's Economic Competitiveness Committee will conduct a workshop on April 27 to hear from the development community about altering or repealing the tree and landscape ordinance because they find it burdensome.

During the lengthy period of debate on the need for tree preservation in Tampa when the ordinance was passed decades ago, the opposition presented no valid arguments. The principal point of contention centered on the developer who felt his rights were being deprived because he would have to show due cause for removing trees before a building permit was issued.

One does not have to be well read on the subject of building and development to understand that it is more economical to bulldoze 10 acres of wooded land, develop it and then minimally replant. Repeatedly, the argument was advanced that a parcel of land could be replanted with hundreds of saplings much more reasonably than working around those monsters that delay construction time and cost money.

The argument is a weak one, for surely a 100-year-old oak can never really be replaced. Destruction of these mighty giants would cause a serious depletion of oxygen-producing organisms, which would be impossible to correct in our lifetimes and those of our children. So our community must continue to keep the importance of preserving trees in the forefront.

Green leaves absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. In addition, leafy green plants and trees are a natural cleansing and filtering agent for physical contaminants in the air, much like an air conditioner's filter. Airborne dust articles are caught on leaves and washed away when it rains. Great clusters of trees are particularly beneficial when planted around manufacturing plants because they trap the winds and create settling chambers for dust and other contaminants produced by industrial operations. Trees help reduce high-frequency noises by serving as screens and buffers along highways, factories and industrial properties that abut residential areas.

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Trees also prevent erosion, because their roots bind the soil. Bulldozing all the trees on a parcel of land upsets the balance of natural vegetation and violates all principles of soil conservation. Trees are natural shading devices, much more efficient than mechanical shading devices. While trees shade, they also cool through the process of transpiration. Trees, as a natural resource, serve many functions in conserving the total balance of nature.

With reference to the aesthetic considerations of trees in the suburbs as well as the urban centers, they hide the ugly as well as enhance what is already naturally beautiful. The aesthetic importance of trees has been evident in European parks and squares since long before the colonization of America.

Man's relationship to trees becomes evident when trees are placed in an integral environment with man-made ideas. In developments and urban complexes, trees lend color, shape and pattern to an otherwise sterile environment exemplified by the strict geometry of streets and sidewalks. Trees enhance the building arts by helping to form the grand approach to a complex. They help to define the spatial quality of the environment by forming play areas for children, conversation spaces for adults, while creating a sense of serenity. Psychologically, existing trees on a developed site give an impression of completion as contrasted to the unnatural impression of a site barren of trees.

During this month when we celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day, it behooves the community as well as community planners and developers to uphold and preserve one of our most important natural resources. Trees.

Joe Chillura is a former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County commissioner.

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