Isle of Sicily homeowner fined $260k for tree removal and shoreline damage
City said violations are “egregious” and “irreparable.” Homeowner says he will appeal the Code Compliance Board’s decision
Sept. 22, 2023
By Beth Kassab
A photo dated from 2014 shows the lakefront lot at 6 Isle of Sicily lush with mature bald cypress trees, laurel oaks and other native plants.
But flip through a series of photos collected by the city of Winter Park from 2015 to 2023 and the same property appears increasingly barren of trees as an artificial white sand beach spreads over the shoreline, smothering native aquatic plants.
The changes at one of the 11 palatial homes nestled on the Lake Maitland peninsula at the north end of the Winter Park Chain of Lakes is the subject of a long and contentious code compliance case over two of Winter Park’s most cherished assets: its tree canopy and lakes.
“It is difficult to imagine a more egregious set of willful, knowing and repeated violations that attack the essence of what our city code is intended to protect,” said Rick Geller, the attorney who represented the city the Sept. 7 Code Compliance Board where the case was presented.
The board approved fines totaling more than $260,000, including $150,600 related to the unpermitted removal of 13 bald cypress trees and one laurel oak. Another $110,500 in fines are related to importing sand without a permit that altered the shoreline and improper grading of the property in a special flood hazard area.
Some of the trees removed were replacement trees that the homeowners were ordered to plant in 2016 after they were found to have violated the tree ordinance the first time.
Homeowners Oliver and Rosemary Dawoud did not appear at the hearing or send a representative. Oliver Dawoud, chief executive officer of Aventus Health, which operates pharmacies, laboratories and other medical services, alerted the city attorney on the day of the hearing that he would be unable to attend.
Dawoud told the Voice that he plans to appeal the board’s decision. He has 30 days from Sept. 7, the day of the meeting, to file a court challenge.
He said two of the trees were removed because of lightening strikes and he understood he had permission to remove them. As for the sand, he said he thought he was placing the sediment above his property line — rather than in the lake — and didn’t understand the ramifications of the water level rising and wave action or storms sweeping the sand away from his property where it can harm native plants and contribute to water discoloration, erosion and algae blooms.
“I felt horrible when they told me that,” he said, recalling a conversation he had months ago with a state environmental officer and said he has since had some of the sand removed.
Geller said during the public hearing that Dawoud has not taken action to address the violations.
Winter Park Urban Forestry Superintendent Josh Nye testified at the hearing and estimated it would take 40 years to grow new bald cypress trees to the point of maturity of those lost on the property.
Gloria Eby, the city’s director of natural resources and sustainability, noted the importance of the trees, other vegetation and a healthy shoreline for the city’s larger ecosystem.
“The plants act as kidneys for your lake,” she said, explaining that they soak up nutrients from runoff and play an important role in keeping the water clean.
Dawoud and his wife purchased the property in 2015 for $4 million, according to property records. They tore down the existing house and began new construction. They moved into the new home this year.
“In 2014 the property was mostly lined with beautiful trees and vegetation,” Geller noted. “Today the property is stark and denuded. A mansion, however imposing or impressive you may find it, does not fix a barren or denuded landscape.”
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