Q: At the July 18 Board of County Commissioners meeting, you introduced 14 points that you would like added to the county’s Land Development Code tree protections. How did this come about?
A: One of the main things I hear from residents in the county, both during the election and now, is this topic. People are concerned about clear cutting of property. It’s the main reason I ran for office; I have seen properties clear cut and then just sit there without development, sometimes for as much as two years. In that period, the property could have been collecting rain and providing cooling and shade. Studies have shown that having trees positively impacts mental health. Even developers have told me that trees sell homes.

I think we should keep trees as long as possible and do land clearing in stages to preserve habitat as long as possible. We all moved to St. Johns County because of the way it feels and looks and we need to preserve that.

Q: What can you tell us about your proposal?
A: First, it’s important to note that the county’s Land Development Code as it pertains to trees (we don’t actually have a “tree ordinance”) hasn’t been updated in 25 years. The financial penalty for cutting down a specimen tree is not consequential today. You can’t replace what’s taken out with the amount of the fine. I came up with 14 points, but I could have had 30 points. I tried to keep it as simple as possible and find some things that developers and environmentalists could agree on.

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Q: What are your 14 points?
A: Here are my 14 goals and recommendations of tree preservation: 1. Continue to prevent removal of trees on a lot less than an acre; 2. Provide greater tree protection on all lots that are an acre or greater and/or are coastal habitat lots; 3. Better protect our irreplaceable trees so that they’re not removed by those who could afford to pay the fines; 4. Greater conservation of trees for Planned Unit Developments; 5. More strongly discourage non-permitted tree removal; 6. Keep tree payment fund payments current with inflation; 7. Prevent land clearing too far in advance of development; 8. Preserve buffers, thereby protecting an existing neighborhoods’ privacy and other quality of life aspects; 9. Ensure that development and construction do not lead to die-off of trees in abutting preserve areas; 10. Continue to allow the county’s surveyor to create a tree inventory; 11. Preserve more trees in commercial settings; 12. Ensure that 100 percent of disbursement of funds from the county’s Tree Bank goes toward the purchase and installation of trees; 13. Monitor and ensure adherence to code is accomplished with higher fines; and 14. Notification of clearing within 300 feet of the property to the people on the property line. 

Q: What is the next step?
A: Our team (staff) at the county is now going over these 14 points and will make a presentation showing, among other things, financial ramifications to the Board of County Commissioners at our Oct. 17 meeting. I encourage people to attend this meeting and use their three minutes of public comment so that we commissioners will know their opinions.

Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
A: Readers can email me at bcc4kjoseph@sjcfl.us or call me at (904) 679-2620.

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