Pensacola considers band-aid for trees

by Jeremy Morrison

The Pensacola City Council this week is considering tweaking the city’s landscape and tree protection plan section of its Land Development Code. The measure is intended as a Band-Aid of sorts until the city revises its tree ordinance, a process which has been underway for more than a year now.

“With this pandemic situation, I don’t know when the actual tree ordinance will be reviewed,” said Councilwoman Ann Hill on Wednesday. “This is just a little, simple thing we can do right now.”

The changes being contemplated for the city’s landscape and tree protection plan — Sec. 12-6-4 of the LDC — essentially amount to reducing the number of protected trees it takes to trigger a requirement that a developer place a sign on the property noting that a tree-removal permit has been applied for. Currently, a developer must target 10 protected trees (or two heritage oaks, or 50 trees of any variety) to be required to place a sign on the property. The changes being considered would reduce that number to three.

Hill said that the changes would facilitate better “communication” between neighbors. The councilwoman is hoping the reduced threshold for placing a sign on the property will help circumvent situations she’s found herself in in the past, where nearby neighbors have called her because they’re concerned that a developer is improperly taking down protected trees.

“It just gets really emotional,” Hill said.

By requiring permit-applied-for signage for a fewer number of protected trees, the councilwoman said that neighbors will be better informed and less likely to contact the city in regards to properties they have questions about. While the change is meant to diffuse some of the controversy involved with taking down trees for a development, Hill said she understands that people’s feelings about trees are deep rooted.

“Anytime anybody touches a tree it’s controversial, I’ll tell you that much,” she said.

The city’s tree ordinance, which lays out which trees are protected, as well as other related specifics, such as diameter measurements required to qualify a tree as ‘heritage’ and the associated fees for cutting down such trees, is currently undergoing a revision process. But the Environmental Advisory Board, where the document currently sits, is not meeting right now due to the COVID-19 coronavirus measures in place.

Hill said that she views these potential changes to the LDC’s landscape and tree protection plan as something the city can do in the immediate to offer more protection for trees. If approved by the city council, the changes will go to the Pensacola Planning Board prior to heading back to council for final approval. That process, though, could be quick.

“Because it’s simple,” Hill said, “it’d be in the next month or two. It should happen very fast.”

City council will consider these changes to the LDC during its regular meeting Thursday night. The meeting will be conducted at 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall, but with virtual accommodations to enable some council members to participate remotely and also to allow for the public to have input via the same means.