Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Halt Clearcutting, Deforestation: Heed St. Johns County Commissioner Krista Keating-Joseph's Fourteen Point Plan on Tree Preservation

On August 23, 2022, Krista Keating-Joseph, a Gold Star Mother of a Navy SEAL who died in Iraq, defeated incumbent lawyer and developer puppet JEREMIAH RAY BLOCKER by 175 votes in the closed Republican Primary, with no opponent in the general election.  

Ms. Joseph won against the political machine of lawbreaking, big-spending developer cat's paws.  

We, the People, elected her against seemingly insurmountable odds. 

Yul Nivver was proved wrong again.

Opposing developer greed and clearcutting and deforestation was her unifying theme, which touched a strong chord with voters who love our County's natural beauty.  

It is with great pride that St. Johns County residents heard our newest Commissioner, Krista Keating-Joseph, summarize her fourteen (14) points on ending deforestation and clearcutting at the July 18, 2023 St. Johns County Commission meeting, a tour de force.   View video here: (Item 6)

UPDATE to this story, first posted July 21, 2023: Still NO local coverage from GANNETT, its incredible shrinking St. Augustine Record, or other lame local news media.  This hard-working new Commissioner is doing her job without fear or favor of oligopolists and their oleaginous reactionaries in politics.  She's acting in the spirit of JFK's Profiles in Courage, his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of several U.S. Senators.  GANNETT has stolen our local newspaper, fired its reporters, ended its (unpaid) local columnists, including historian Dr. Susan Parker, Ph.D. The sooner someone starts a newspaper or buys the newspaper, the quicker we can get back to what Senator John McCain would call "regular order."  Right now, corporate criminals are having their way with our land, our wildlife, our wetlands, and our politics. Enough,.

Full text:

Revisions to the Land Development Code:

1.Goal: continue to prevent removal of ALL trees on a lot less than an acre.


Currently on a Lot of Record with an existing home, all trees may be removed from the lot.  Maintain the current protections only for non-coastal lots that are less than an acre. Therefore, on a non-coastal Lot of Record that’s less than an acre, all trees may continue to be removed from the lot prior to the construction of a home as long as 40 tree inches per acre prorated are replanted. Lots that are an acre or greater that lie west of the Intracoastal Waterway shall follow the same requirements as coastal lots, described in #2 below.

By making no revisions to the LDC for non-coastal lots less than an acre, staff workload and enforcement will not need to be increased, and additional public education is not required.

2. Goal:  Provide greater tree protection on all lots that are an acre or greater and/or are coastal habitat lots. 

Currently on a coastal Lot of Record, all trees may be removed from the lot prior to the construction of a home as long as 40 tree inches per acre prorated are replanted. The same is true of non-coastal lots greater than an acre. Therefore, change to better protect trees on both types of lots. 

Increase the tree inches from 40” per acre to 80” per acre, so the citation would read: Lots of Record lying east of the intracoastal Waterway AND Lots of Record an acre or larger lying west of the ICW shall provide 80 tree inches per acre through preservation of existing trees on site. If there are not 80 inches per acre currently on the Lot, then replanting with similar existing tree habitat to meet the 80 inches per acre shall be required. 

Current code: Lot size of 0.2 acres xx 40” = 8” of trees which could be preservation of one 8” tree or other smaller trees to add up to the 8” requirement.

Proposed code:  Lot size of 0.2 x 80” = 16” of trees which could be preservation of two 8” trees or other smaller trees to add up to the 16” requirement.

3. Goal: Better protect our irreplaceable trees so that they’re not removed by those who can simply afford to pay the fines. Also, improve replacement of them when they are removed.

Simplify the LDC and provide clear guidance to Developers on what is defined as a Specimen tree, providing a specific DBH (Diameter at Breast Height). For example:

A Protected Tree with a DBH of 30 inches or greater is a Specimen Tree except for Live Oaks with a DBH of 50 inches or greater, Sand Live Oaks with a DBH of 18 inches or greater and Redcedar which is a DBH of 12 inches or greater. Specimen trees shall be preserved on site and shall earn triple tree inch value such that the DBH of these trees shall be tripled and applied toward any tree inch planting requirements or deficits from Removal of other protected trees.

These sizes were based on an analysis of current identified Specimen Trees in the County and review of the Florida Champion trees. This would be more efficient than the current process.

If no feasible alternative to removal exists, mitigation for Specimen Tree removal shall be calculated by tripling the lost tree inches and calculating $100 per lost inch, and paid into the St. Johns Count Tree Bank Fund. Example, 50 inches x 3 = 150 inches lost x $100 = $15,000.  The goal is not to earn money through destruction of specimen trees but to deter property owners from destroying them and encourage them to preserve rather than destroy specimen trees.

Furthermore, regarding replacement of specimen trees that are approved for removal by the county, specimen trees shall be replaced at a ratio of two (2) to one (1) of the cumulative caliper of the trees to be installed to the cumulative DBH of the trees removed. This replacement ratio is utilized and effective in Orange County. All replacement trees are to be Florida Standard #1 or better, shall be no less than 10 feet in height and no less than 4 inches in diameter.  (See approved list.)

4. Goal:  Greater conservation of trees for Planned Unit Developments. 

Currently the Land Development Code only requires PUD retain 5% conservation of natural vegetation. This has not been revised since 1999. Therefore, revise to require development to preserve a minimum of 20% (10% Dean option) conservation of upland natural vegetation that shall not include Significant Natural Communities Habitat, Upland Buffers, Essential Habitat and other conservation or preservation areas.  (Development edges were not included in this list to allow them to count toward the 10% and incentivize keeping the native vegetation in the edges.)

Tree removal that violates this stipulation would be subject to a fine 10X the current fine to encourage adherence to the law. Small fines are considered “cost of doing business” and do not deter violators.  

5. Goal: More strongly discourage non-permitted tree removal.  Trees removed illegally  should be subject to a fine 10X current fine to discourage such violations. 

6. Goal: Keep tree payment fund payments current with inflation.  

The County’s Tree Bank Fund payment requirement is $25 per inch removed. This has not been revised since 2006. Update to the current retail market value of each tree since the purpose is for the county to be able to purchase a replacement tree for planting. Assess annually  and revise as needed to keep current with inflation.  Raise the Tree Bank Fund payment to at least $100 per inch. (See attached list for replacement trees.). The cost of the tree PLUS installation.

7. Goal:  prevent land clearing too far in advance of development 

Existing LDC 4.01.02A says “it shall be unlawful…to cause Land Alternation without having first obtained a Development Permit or a Development Order…”     Some developers seek what is now called a Clearing and Grubbing (Grading) Permit in order to begin early work on site preparation. That has been abused, where land has been cleared and sits empty and idle.

This is especially problematic with projects that will be phased over several years; developers must be discouraged from clearing up front.

This can be addressed by eliminating the Clearing and Grading Plan Application (CGCP) option for property. The CGCP allows the clearing and grading of a property without any planned construction plans which has led to lands being cleared well in advance of any engineered plans; or with no plans at all. Developers that do have clear plans for construction will submit construction plans. The current regulations allow for the Developer to request early land clearing once the first round of construction plans is reviewed. This ties the clearing to eminent construction of the development; land cannot be cleared merely to make it more saleable or for any other purpose.

8. Goal: preserve buffers, thereby protecting existing neighborhoods’ privacy and other quality of life impacts.  (Dolphin Cove subdivision is an example of major negative impacts on property and well being of residents due to buffers eliminated between cleared property and the existing Dolphin Cove subdivision.  It’s also an example of advance clearing with no construction plans  - see #7.) 

Keep Natural or undisturbed as much as possible buffer of original, natural vegetation/trees on PUDs - to protect neighboring properties. 

9.  Goal: Prevent massive tree death after subdivision is built.

Disallow raising the grade within 15 feet of a buffer so that trees in buffer do not die when their roots are covered with 6 inches or more of soil – as has occurred. County Technical Development staff would review and provide feedback for the grading of the property.

10.  Goal: Ensure that development and construction does not lead to die-off of trees in abutting preserve areas.  While some developers set aside land for preserves abutting their developments, problems with drainage have caused trees to die in two neighborhoods in Nocatee – with one massive die-off putting lives at risk when hundreds of mature trees fell. Attention must be given in planning stage by county staff to drainage so that water table in preserves does not change post-construction. Staff  assessments and comments on PUD applications should include this specific issue – on all sides of proposed PUD.  SJRWMD requirements for proper drainage must be adhered to during construction so that tree kills due to poor drainage never occur again in SJC.

11.Goal: preserve more trees in commercial settings. 

Currently Commercial applications are EXEMPT from payment into the tree bank for lost tree inches. 

Therefore, delete this exemption and apply $100 for lost inches rather than $25.

12. Goal: Ensure that disbursement of funds from the county’s tree bank go 100% towards purchase and installation of trees. Disbursement from the tree bank shall be made only with the approval of the Board of County Commissioners. 

13. Goal: Keep Pines as important and take off the noxious weeds list.

14.  Goal:  Notification of clearing within 300 feet of homeowner and property line before the clearing takes place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You probably won't post this comment but I'm gonna make it anyway. I can't see how someone could lose a son in Iraq and still be part of the Republican Party. They started that war and it was unnecessary and it wrecked the place and cost many lives for very little improvement in Iraq. The place became a magnet for every terrorist in the Middle East and ISIS resulted from this action. Not to mention, this war didn't prevent future attacks on American soil. 9-11 was done by a small group of people and not a nation state. The GOP gets away with all of this because of people like Mrs. Joseph who support this insane party of pigs no matter what they do. It's like a cult for Christ sakes and by God this abominable party must be annihilated.