Tampa tree company to pay $234K for illegal tree removal


In 2019, Miller & Sons LLC removed trees without permission. The company was cited by the city.

TAMPA, Fla. — The District Circuit Court of Appeals denied an appeal by Miller & Sons LLC against the city of Tampa for the removal of 28 trees, including some large oak trees. An appeals court denied appeal against that case in September 2022.

On appeal in 2022, the court found that the tree felling company had violated city ordinances by cutting down trees on two properties without a permit. The applicant argued that the trees had been lawfully removed since both properties were residential properties.

“Because one of the properties designated as residential would be considered residential under the current version of the law despite the absence of a residence, the judge’s decision regarding that property is overturned,” the court’s previous statement read.

“Because the other property is neither a designated residential area nor a lawful non-compliant residential use as defined by the city ordinance, it is not considered residential property for the purposes of the law. Accordingly, the judge’s decision regarding this property must be affirmed.”

It is the highest penalty for illegally cutting down protected trees in Tampa. Arborist Miller & Sons LLC must pay $234,427.50.

“There were local residents living there at the time we surveyed the trees on the property,” said Jonathan Lee, the arborist responsible for removing the trees. “And we never really checked the zoning. To be honest we never went in and checked the zoning because it didn’t seem like there was a need for it.”

The trees and lots in question are located on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa. When the trees were removed, the property was an RV park. Meanwhile, the car wash business is almost complete.

Jonathan Lee, owner of Miller & Sons LLC and the arborist who ordered the felling of the trees in 2019, said he inspected the trees and found them to be in poor condition.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor filed a complaint against Lee with the International Society of Arboriculture. City officials then held a hearing on the matter and said the ISA issued a public reprimand against Lee.

Castor said city arborists then determined the trees were not in bad shape.

“I believe what we did was right. And it was legal, and unfortunately the justice system doesn’t see it that way,” Lee said.

Lee said he hasn’t decided on his next move yet.

“I’m not done fighting yet,” Lee said. “We will see what levers we can use to continue defending and fighting against it. It may be that we…[file] a lawsuit against the city of Tampa for some defamatory comments and some things they did and spread and some disinformation they posted there and in all likelihood we will be filing a lawsuit very soon against the city of Tampa for at least some things to uncover and hopefully shed light on how they treat small businesses that they don’t agree with.”

Under the then-new legislation, dubbed “private property rights,” it was legal to fell trees on residential property, Lee said. However, the property near Gandy Boulevard was not designated as a residential area, and Castor said that cutting down the trees on that property was an unlawful act.

A statement denying the final appeal is expected to be released by the Florida Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Malique Rankin is a general duties reporter at 10 Tampa Bay. You can email their story ideas to mrankin@10tampabay.com and follow their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.