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The Villages
Thursday, October 28, 2021

Governor must veto tree removal bill that eliminates local control

We find a bill that’s sitting on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk to be quite disturbing.

The bill would remove local control over tree removal – yes, we know it sounds absurd – and would signal a huge change in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. And it could greatly alter the aesthetics of the mega-retirement community, which clearly would – and should – upset many residents.

As you can probably tell, we’re not much on state government getting involved in local issues. When we see that kind of meddling – a recent bill vetoed by DeSantis that would have barred communities from banning plastic straws is a perfect example – it makes us wonder what state politicians are thinking, or whose back is being scratched.

Lady Lake Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Bilbrey examines a tree in the wake of a recent accident involving a golf cart hitting a rope that was stretched across Del Mar Drive.

The tree removal procedure that exists right now in The Villages is a good one. Currently, a homeowner must apply to the Architectural Review Committee to request the removal of a tree that is more than four inches in circumference. That rule doesn’t apply to a palm tree, which technically is considered a grass.

The ARC – a hard-working, underappreciated group of volunteers who take their role in protecting the aesthetics of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown quite seriously – considers an arborist’s report for each tree removal. They typically require removal of the stump. And in many cases, the ARC will require a replacement tree be planted.

In addition, the Town of Lady Lake also takes tree removal quite seriously. In fact, the proud owner of the prestigious Tree City USA designation requires a permit for tree removal – including palm trees.

But the bill on DeSantis’ desk would drastically change all of that. Local control would be taken away from local government. And no matter how you cut it, that simply isn’t a good thing.

The bill makes it quite clear that a local government wouldn’t be able to require a notice, application, approval, permit, fee or mitigation for the pruning, trimming or removal of a tree on residential property. The property owner does, however, have to obtain documentation from an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture or a Florida licensed landscape architect that the tree presents a danger to persons or property.

In addition, a local government wouldn’t be able to require a property owner to replant a tree that was pruned, trimmed or removed in accordance with this section.

Think about that for a second. That means area residents would be able to pretty much work the system and get trees removed willy-nilly. And the look of The Villages that members of the ARC have worked so hard to protect would be a thing of the past – plain and simple.

Of course, the million-dollar question is who would play watchdog over these new rules. If the answer is a bunch of bureaucrats in Tallahassee who are a good 200-plus miles from here, then we can all agree that DeSantis will quickly understand how ridiculous and worthless that piece of paper is he’s being asked to sign.

You might recall that earlier this month, an 89-year-old Villager was seriously hurt when her golf cart hit a rope that was stretched across Del Mar Drive. That rope was being used in a tree removal, and neither the company doing the work nor the homeowner had obtained the proper permit from the Town of Lady Lake prior to starting the job.

Of course, the permit issue was handled very quickly because a Lady Lake code enforcement officer came to the scene and made sure the homeowner took care of it. Do you even think for a second that a similar situation would be taken care of as efficiently if the watchdogs were three hours away in some cushy capital office?

Please.

The good news is this – given the governor’s recent rejection of the measure about plastic straws, we can’t imagine him signing this nonsense into law. He’s made it quite clear that he’s big on local control of local issues. So it stands to reason that he’ll follow suit and drop this bill in the round file where it belongs.

As we’ve said before, the Tallahassee overreach has to stop. We believe DeSantis feels the same way. And we expect him to show Floridians that when he refuses to put state bureaucrats in charge of tree removals in towns and cities across the state.

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