Hagle: Fate of 100 Year Old Trees Worth Debating

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In an open letter to city officials and citizens of Winter Park, Marc Hagle sheds light on the original Tree Preservation Ordinance he helped write as chairman of the tree ordinance committee.

Mr. Hagle explains the costs and benefits that underlie the current ordinance and urges a more robust, citizen-involved debate before the ordinance is changed.

Hagle traces the history of Winter Park’s tree canopy — an effort sustained by generations of Winter Parkers to fulfill a vision of the city’s founders. That vision transformed a landscape dotted with native pines into the urban oak forest we live in today. The historic 19th century photo shown above (obtained from the Winter Park Historical Association website) shows the Winter Park/Orlando “Dinky Line” passing by the pine trees that dominated the landscape in the late 1800s.

This is the full text of Marc Hagle’s open letter to the city:

“Thank you to all who have volunteered their time for the benefit of Winter Park. It is through a combined effort and dialogue that a true and representative direction for the City is determined.

The tree preservation ordinance is one of those issues which requires an open and representative discussion. There are clearly two schools of thought, the property rights of our citizens and the historic rights of the City.

I am a real estate developer. As such, I am firmly in the camp of individual property rights. An owner should and must have the right to own, protect and develop his individual property as he wishes, of course within safety and other realistic guidelines. But what are these guidelines and what is their purpose?

Historically, City codes are based on the health, safety and welfare of it citizens and the public in general. How does this apply to the tree line within the City? To answer this question, one must understand the history behind the tree line in Winter Park.

Continued from Home Page… In the late 1800’s there were no oak trees in Winter Park. The trees consisted primarily of pines. The City leaders at that time started importing and planting the oak trees as we see them today. This process continued thru the early 1900’s. The City we enjoy today is a product of over 100 years of effort from our forefathers.

Property rights versus the rights of the community, this is today’s debate. The tree line in Winter Park is not a today phenomenon. It is a legacy passed down to us. It is part of the very soul of the City. It is not an asset which can be replaced in the short term, as it takes decades to develop a mature tree.

Does the history of the tree line and the time to replace it give rise to City intervention? Well of course it does and has by the history and agreed importance of the tree line and the very existence of the previous, existing and proposed tree codes. So now the only remaining question is the degree of intervention.

It costs approximately $110 per caliper inch to plant an oak tree. Once planted, a new oak tree must be heavily watered for its first year after planting. To hire a crew on a bulk basis to water newly planted trees costs over $5-700 per tree.

The Winter Park Live Oak Fund has planted over 750 trees in Winter Park in the last 5 years. The fund initially planted both 6 inch and 4 1/2 inch trees. In our first year we learned it was most economical to just plant the 4 1/2 inch tree. We also learned an oak tree of less than 4 1/2 inches had no short term impact on the tree line. By dropping to a 3 inch tree, we were not only compromising in diameter of the tree but most importantly the height and spread. Thus the Live Oak Fund, through trial and error, determined a 4 1/2 inch tree was the best for the City and still cost effective.

When I chaired the committee which wrote the existing tree ordinance, there was considerable debate as to personal versus public rights and a fair and equitable cost, if you will, as to the value of a tree to the City and the right to buy that value from the citizens of Winter Park. It by no means was a short debate. The existing fees were determined based on the size and historic nature of the tree to be removed and a comparison of those costs to ordinances written in the communities surrounding Winter Park. Further, one of the overriding considerations was the long term protection of the tree asset for the City. We did want to allow the property owner the flexibility required, but did not want to allow this flexibility without recognizing the actual replacement cost of such an asset.

The three categories of trees, protected, specimen and historic are representative of similar ordinances in other cities and recognizes the long time it takes for the growth of an oak tree. The replacement ratios of 1:1, 1.5:1 and 2:1 took the visual impact and replacement time into account.

So, should a property owner have the right to remove a 75 year old tree and replace it with 3 five year old trees? From a cost stand point the tree removed costs approximately $20-25,000 and the replacement would cost $990, not a fair trade. From an historic and visual perspective, trimming a deep V for power lines has less impact. We know how the public feels about the power line issue.

Again, I thank the tree preservation committee for their hard work and dedication to the City welfare. I do believe the debate should continue and the investment our ancestors have made in Winter Park protected.”



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