After about a dozen public comments Thursday morning about the hereditary oak, District 3 commissioner Lumon May asked the county’s staff to look for solutions that would allow developers to expand the storage unit without cutting the tree.
“People have their constitutional rights to own property and can develop it,” May said, “but there has to be a good mean somewhere in which we can solve this without cutting the tree, because my position is not to fell. “down the tree.”
The century-old tree, 85 inches in diameter, could be removed to create a three-story mini-warehouse at 6155 N. Palafox. Last week, a group of concerned citizens spoke at a meeting of the Escambia County Development Review Committee before the development was approved. Since then, they have launched an online campaign that has collected around 2,500 signatures.
During Thursday’s public commentary, many residents blamed a “weak” development code for authorizing the removal of the tree.
“This tree meets all of the ideal protection standards here in Escambia County. The fact is, allowing the removal is actually against your own land development code and there is no need to remove that tree, ”said Dianne Krumel, a former candidate for the State House in the 2nd District. “Why are you writing these codes if you have no intention of enforcing them?”
Horace Jones, director of the county development department, said there was a consultation with the environmental resource management department and that the development contract met the requirements of the land development law.
Chips Kirschenfeld, director of natural resources and assistant district administrator, said district arborist Jimmie Jarratt assessed the tree and confirmed it was “an 85-inch tree in good health.”
Kirschenfeld said the county was trying to work on a redesign of the proposed development with a 15-20% reduction in the size of the building to accommodate the tree.
“When I checked it out, it didn’t meet our minimum standard for tree protection, so I said the design wouldn’t work,” he said.
He added that it would be “very difficult” for development without removing the tree since the property is half an acre lot.
District 2 commissioner Doug Underhill said he was “not a fan” of the county’s land development act but tried to make it clear that the mini-storage did not violate the county’s tree ordinance in the code.
Underhill asked Tim Day, the county’s senior natural resources manager, “Does felling this tree for this development meet this ordinance or not?”
Day sighed and said “yes it does”.
Underhill said he hates having a family tree removed, but argued that the tree ordinance was updated a few years ago and passed 5-0.
“We can’t come back and review the regulation every time an issue comes up,” he said. “You negotiate badly every time you plan to move the goal post the next time.”
But Commissioners May and District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh say the language leaves too much room for interpretation.
“It is not correct to say that it is absolute and to have an employee on the spot,” said May. “We are looking for alternative solutions for the benefit of the citizens and there is nothing wrong with that. Why not look for other solutions at this point? “
“The result here today is to come up with a policy that might be more to the point,” Bergosh later added. “It’s our fault – it’s up to us – and sometimes the language needs to be updated.”
An appeal against the mini-warehouse development is still in progress, where it would go to the district compensation council for administrative appeals.
Proponents of the tree say they are not done yet.
“We have only just begun the fight,” said Margaret Hostetter. “This tree, this old oak is in imminent danger. It is the spearhead to save protected trees in Escambia County. Not only is it a listed tree, not only is it in excellent health, it is also the largest tree on record in the county. ”