Please email the County Commissioners and tell them not to weaken protections for Grand trees, and come to the public hearing Tuesday, January 31st at 1660 Ringling Blvd.
Dear Commissioners,The Manatee/Sarasota Sierra Club urges the Board of County Commissioners not to weaken protective policies for grand trees, to allow developers the right to determine the health, function and value of grand trees and if it should remain or be cut down for housing and commercial development.
There are many reasons to value and protect grand trees in the urban environment:
- Trees reduce carbon pollution directly through sequestration and indirectly by lowering the demand for energy.
- Trees reduce the heat island effect and mitigate the effects of climate change.
- Trees play critical roles in controlling stormwater runoff, improving water quality and protecting surface waters from sediment and nutrient loading.
- Trees reduce the amount of runoff flowing into stormwater and sewer systems and decrease soil erosion.
- Trees provide habitat for birds and endangered wildlife species.
- Many municipalities consider trees as utilities and include them as part of their stormwater management plans.
Nonpoint source pollution results from stormwater carrying and depositing contaminants into surface and ground waters, contaminating drinking water sources and adversely affecting the health of plants, fish, animals and people. Nitrogen and phosphorus feed Karenia Brevis and destroy sea grasses, marine ecosystems and endangered wildlife.
Excess volumes of runoff from the conversion of forested lands to impervious surfaces from overgrowth and urban sprawl, cause stream scouring, property damage as well as loss of aquatic habitat and floodplain connectivity.For the past twenty years, this board has incentivised development to occur through the use of "mitigation." As reported by Sarasota News Leader, Benderson Development recently clear cut every Grand Tree on the 24-acre Siesta Promenade site. Despite the county identifying grand trees on the property, every tree on the parcel at U.S.41 and Stickney Point Road was removed. Sarasota County conceded to Benderson Development to mitigate the removal of these mature trees with the promise of planting 509 new trees. This mitigation occurred without public input and without transparency, via emails and edits to the original approved site plan.Eighteen years ago Sierra's Conservation Committee lobbied Sarasota County Commissioners to stop issuing "after the fact" permits to developers who prematurely moved earth, clear-cut land and habitats and killed endangered species without permits.
A reporter for the Pelican Press, Jack Gurney, wrote a series of articles on the plight of Gopher Tortoises, when developers were burying tortoises alive with earth-moving equipment. Jack's articles created an outcry in the community and the Board of County Commissioners sanctioned and passed a Pre-clearing ordinance and an Earth Moving Ordinance.
The County owes the public an explanation as to why Benderson was allowed to clear the Promenade site without permits, when staff and the developer knew that permits were required.
- Where is the oversight?
- When citizens invested untold hours getting these illegal practices stopped in the past, why are developers confident they can ignore regulations now?
- Because the Promenade property is located in a busy urban area, citizens noted that illegal construction was occurring without the required permits. But what happens when Lakewood Ranch South clear cuts hundreds or thousands of acres of agricultural lands and habitats east of I-75?
- Jensen clear cut land on Lorraine Road and many miles east out Fruitville Road, out of sight, where public access is denied and no one checks to see if wildlife, grand tree and habitat studies have been done, the required permits issued for preclearing, earth moving and the relocation of endangered species?
This Board claims that Sarasota "stakeholders" are demanding that protections for Sarasota’s Grand Trees must be diminished, when clearly the rules applied to most trees in this county are inadequate and illustrate that Sarasota County trees need MORE protections, not less.
Sarasota County Resource Protection and Development Services must be responsible for oversight of land development sites and impose realistic fines for illegal pre-clearing of trees and habitats, earth moving, destruction of grand trees and killing endangered wildlife. Developers break environmental laws and ordinances with impunity, because the fines imposed are so miniscule, they're but a small cost of doing business.
Are citizens expected to trust the developer to oversee themselves and do the right thing, pay mitigation fees and save grand trees that don't benefit their site plans and bottom line?