New tree ordinance sparks questions, concerns

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By Maddie Rowley | 315-4353 | @maddiedestinlog |

DESTIN — If the apple tree from Shel Silverstein’s famous children’s book “The Giving Tree” had attended Wednesday afternoon’s Q&A session at City Hall, Silverstein’s line “And the tree was happy” would ring true.

The majority of the meeting’s attendees, however, which included contractors, arborists, construction workers, business owners and homeowners, were not so happy.

Last month, the city of Destin passed a new tree ordinance stating that property owners must apply for a permit to remove any tree on property that “has a trunk diameter of two inches or more when measured at a point six inches above the ground and which normally grows to an overall height of at least 10 feet at maturity.”

Community Development Director Jennifer Bryla took questions from attendees regarding the ordinance and also introduced the city’s new arborist, Travis Morales.

Morales is a certified arborist by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and owns New Leaf Arboriculture, a tree preservation and removal company in Crestview.

During the meeting, Aubrey Santucci, ISA certified arborist and longtime tree removal business owner, asked about the length of time it would take to get a tree removal permit approved by the city.

“I have a permit in right now, and today on the phone I was told that it might take 45 days to get a tree removal approved for a client in Crystal Beach,” said Santucci.

Bryla responded that a reasonable expectation is about a week for Morales to be able to go out and identify whether the tree can or can’t be removed.

Permit and License Administrator Susan Destin added that permits are dealt with according to the order in which they are received.

“You might have six to 10 applications in front of your clearing permit,” said Destin.

Construction worker Joe Dixon was mostly concerned about the length of time it would take to complete a job.

“I think the ordinance is going to slow things down considerably. They only have one guy,” Dixon said, referring to Morales. “If we’re building a condominium complex, that’s a lot of trees to remove. How is he going to look at every single tree if there are a thousand trees?”

Ashley Simpson, a project manager for CORE Engineering and Consulting Inc., was concerned about when she should fit the arborist visit into site planning.

“The arborist should come in at the very beginning,” Bryla said. “Get Travis involved as soon as possible.”

She encouraged attendees to write down questions and concerns on provided index cards so that they could continue editing the ordinance and addressing those concerns.

“We recognize that there are some things that will need to be tweaked. We want to make this process as smooth and streamlined as possible, and it’s going to take everyone working together,” Bryla said.

Deputy City Manager Steve Schmidt added that the goal of the ordinance was to address clear cutting and to ensure that the city looks well-kept and pretty for tourists and locals alike.

“It may not be perfect, but we are comprehensively going over the ordinance. Staff doesn’t make the policy, council makes the policy and right now this is the policy that we have,” Schmidt said.

Resolution 18-02 of the ordinance lists the mitigation fees that people must pay after Morales has approved a tree’s removal. Fees range from $50 for a tree that is one to nine inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) to $10,000 for each tree that is 30 inches DBH or more. 

Morales, who has been involved with instituting tree ordinances in nine cities from California to Oregon and throughout the Midwest, said that the reaction to the new ordinance is “on track.”

“When something is new, nobody likes change, right? This is the beginning. If we work together, we can make this beneficial,” Morales said. “It’s going to impact Destin in a positive way.”

After the meeting, Councilman Parker Destin said that the aim of the ordinance is to “keep the authenticity of the city.”

“At the end of the day, the purpose is to help, not harm neighborhoods. This is a moving target and participation is important,” Councilman Destin said.

The next Tree Board meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 27.

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