Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Developer is fined $15,000 For Killing Trees

Developer is fined $15,000

Senior Writer
Publication Date: 05/16/03

Developer Robert Graubard has been assessed a $15,000 fine by St. Augustine Code Enforcement Board for cutting down three trees without a permit.

Graubard, of St. Augustine, owns the property off D.O.T. Road and Lewis Speedway where Phase I of the 85-home Old Sebastian Pointe planned unit development is being built.

According to city records, the site contractor, Bentley Development of Farmington, Conn., also illegally removed another 29 native loblolly and slash pine trees while cleaning and shaping a stormwater pond on the property.

A neighbor complained and Senior Code Enforcement Officer Darryl Paolini checked and determined that the trees had been cut illegally.

"We had an old site plan and aerial for that property, as well as measurements of the trees that were out there," Paolini said. "When we got there, we found stumps and tree debris pushed up into piles."

As owner, Graubard is responsible for what is done on his property.

He could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

John Valdes, a builder and member of the code board, said this case ended with a two-part resolution.

First, Graubard is required to plant 234 mature live oak and Southern red cedar as mitigation for the loss of the pines.

This number is derived from adding twice the number of pines removed to 170 -- which comes from two trees for each of Old Sebastian's 85 lots.

Six of those trees must be at least 15 feet tall and 6-to-8 inches thick. The rest must be at least 5 feet tall and 1 inch thick.

There are also requirements about where they will go on the property. About 48 must be sited in the recreation area, for example.

Second, Graubard must pay a fine of $15,000. That figure comes from $5,000 for each of three removed trees that were larger than 30 inches in diameter.

The board's vote Tuesday for this punishment was 4 to 2, with Valdes and David Chatterton dissenting.

"The contractor needed working room for his equipment. No one ever told this guy he needed a permit," Valdes said. "But the responsibility stops at the property owner's desk."

He added that he believes there is a growing movement in St. Johns County against development.

"People here are resistant to change, and development is change," he said.

Board member Cathy DuPont suggested that Graubard be forced to accept mitigation and pay a fine of $100 for each tree cut down, or $3,200. But her motion failed.

Vernon Davis suggested the current penalty.

Valdes said the fine was unusual because the board rarely imposes fines.

"I thought the mitigation offer was generous," he said. "I'd rather see the cash be spent on more trees. This is about trees. It's not about collecting money."

Paolini, who reviews tree permits for the city as part of his duties, said all young trees planted in mitigation must be maintained and kept alive for three years.

But no one checks to see if developers obey that requirement, he said.

"The rule is part of the city code," he said. "But we don't have any ongoing programs to monitor that right now."

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