ORANGE PARK – Town council passed a motion Tuesday night to strengthen their commitment as a tree sanctuary.
As a tree sanctuary, when someone removes a protected tree without replacing it, the town’s Environmental Quality Board must determine a tree mitigation fee that person must pay to the town. Because there was no specified fee, the EQB had to go determine the fee on a case-by-case basis.
“We would like you to settle on the figure we debated for hours: $165 (an inch),” EQB Chair Melba Gordon said. “We don’t feel like that’s an astronomical number.”
After a 4-0 vote, the town passed a motion to direct staff to draft an ordinance that sets up specified fee amounts for the EQB when dealing in cases of tree mitigation. The ordinance staff was directed to write will state that when a Live Oak tree, which are known as historic trees in Orange Park and have greater importance placed on them when compared to other types of trees, is removed, a $165 fee will be charged an inch.
Any other protected tree will be come with a $148 an-inch fee. This ordinance will be placed before the council in a public hearing twice before it is voted on officially. If passed, the ordinance immediately will go into effect.
Anyone who wants to remove a tree won’t necessarily be charged. The fee is determined after the process and takes into consideration how many trees remain on the property, what trees were replaced if any and what types of trees were removed.
If a commercial property owner removed a number of trees, but kept even more trees standing or replaced the ones removed, that owner may not be assessed a fee.
“Before the fee, we’ll take into account any trees they might get credit for, any trees they saved or any trees they get credit for by replanting,” Town Manager Sarah Campbell said. “It’s really about what’s left over at the end of the equation.”
The motion to direct staff to draft an ordinance with these new fee amounts came after some council debate on the price. Council member Alan Watt felt that the fee should be lower than that of Jacksonville’s $148 per inch. Mayor Connie Thomas felt is should be higher, but only just so, she casually pitched $150 an inch.
Council member Randy Anderson said he believed the council should support the decision of the EQB, which called for a flat $165 per inch. If the council passes the ordinance, they directed staff to draft, it will see the EQB’s fee come to fruition but only for the town’s most coveted tree, the Live Oak. Other trees will warrant the lower fee of $148 an inch.
In other business, two Orange Park staples will be receiving much-needed facelifts soon. The Orange Park Skateboard Park will have $38,193.08 spent on it to stabilize crumbled banking on a highly-used section of the park. The Orange Park Athletic Association get its restrooms near the concession stand renovated and brought into 2019 with ADA compliance. That renovation will cost the town $67,500.