ORANGE PARK – It was a night of regulations during last Tuesday’s town council meeting as discussion of tree fees, noise ordinances, front lawn parking rules and public comment time limits filled the meeting’s two-hour runtime.
The council passed its first vote regarding the tree fees it’s been mulling over for the past few meetings, but it wasn’t done so without contention from the two council members: Alan Watt and Roland Mastandrea. At $165 an inch of Live Oak tree, the tree fee was too high for them.
“Staff did a good review of comparable places all over Florida,” Watt said. “This ordinance would make us the most expensive. There’s places out there charging $10 an inch, $50 an inch…$165 dollars an inch is outrageous.”
Watt said he doesn’t disagree whether the town needs a tree fee. He said it’s reasonable to have one, but he believes the proposed amount is too high. Mastandrea said he felt the same. This wasn’t enough to sway the council though because the first reading of the ordinance was approved with a 3-2 vote, with Watt and Mastandrea dissenting.
“Do we want to deter the annihilation of trees...or do we want to continue to remain healthy and maintain the environment we have here in town?” Council member Eddie Henley, who voted in favor of the ordinance, asked.
The ordinance doesn’t, in most cases, apply to residents looking to remove a tree on their private property. Orange Park Director of Economic and Community Development Stephen Smith said the ordinance is for commercial development and for rare cases of residential development. He said for the most part, residents looking to take down a tree in their yard don’t need to worry about the fee.
“It would have to be a large amount [for the fee to kick in],” Smith said.
If this ordinance is passed at the second reading, the fees will be $165 an inch of Live Oak tree, with the diameter being measured from a person’s breast height, and $148 an inch for other types of trees.
Rules and regulations didn’t stop with the tree fee discussion as the council swiftly to the town’s noise ordinance. Orange Park Police Department officers are currently required to use a noise meter, according to Town Manager Sarah Campbell.
“Not every officer has one though,” Campbell said.
The noise ordinance amendment that passed with a 5-0 vote which makes the process more subjective in nature. Campbell said it allows officers to use a reasonable test that takes important factors into context like time of day and area. The officers can use factors like these and others to subjectively determine if someone is outside the limits of the town’s noise regulations.
The council also approved an ordinance amendment to prevent vehicles from being parked in the front yard of a home with a 5-0 vote. Vehicles can only be parked on a driveway in the front yard of a house with this ordinance in effect. It does however have some wiggle room.
“Nothing shall prevent a property owner from parking in that portion of the front lawn between the driveway and nearest side lot line,” the ordinance reads.
In other business, the town council has begun discussions on a possible change to the way it allows for public comments at meetings. Public commenters receive three minutes on the podium before a beeper sounds.
Many wished to speak for longer than the allotted three minutes. The council discussed some options, but opted to push the discussion to the next meeting to give council members and residents a chance to determine a solution.