A Volusia County homeowner’s decision to remove a decaying or dangerous tree from their property isn’t as easy as one might expect.
A condominium company in Astor could face a $20,000 fine for cutting down a 55-inch-diameter laurel on the property in January.
Condo association Jungle Den Villas made the mistake of not applying for a county permit, which is needed to remove the tree.
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Here’s what Volusia County residents should know about tree removal rules so they don’t get stuck with a hefty fine:
What are the rules for tree removal in Volusia County?
In Volusia County, “owner-occupied” single and double family homes are exempt from tree permit requirements. Permits apply to multifamily residences in accordance with county laws.
Rented single-family properties or mobile home parking spaces, on the other hand, do not require approval. The clearing of land for the construction of a new single-family home also requires a tree felling permit.
Property owners must submit an application to the county’s Growth and Resource Management team. The district forest warden will review the application and consider the following, among other things:
- The extent to which the actual or proposed use of the property will require the felling or destruction of vegetation and trees, including whether the applicant has made every reasonable effort to include existing trees in the project and to minimize the number of trees removed .
- The desire to preserve a tree because of its size, age, or some other salient characteristic such as uniqueness, rarity, or status as a historic or specimen tree.
- The extent to which the area would be subject to increased runoff and other environmental damage as a result of tree removal.
Along with the application, property owners must submit a report for all protected trees on the property. Protected trees are all native trees 6 inches or more in diameter at breast height that are within the recessed zones.
Historic trees such as bald cypress and live oak (36 inch diameter at breast height or larger) must also be identified.
While tree removal rules may vary slightly in Volusia’s communities — protected trees on New Smyrna Beach, for example, include trees 4 inches in diameter — for the most part, county ordinances still apply.
What are the penalties for felling a tree without permission?
Any person who violates the permitting process may be required to replace an affected tree, under county laws.
After receiving a permit for the tree replacement, property owners must plant the new tree within 90 days.
The cross-sectional area of the replacement material taken from the tree’s saddle should be 150% of the cross-sectional area of the removed tree.
However, the county forester may reduce the replacement schedule depending on the nature of the infraction.
In the Astor condominium situation, for example, the county requires the association to replace the tree at a rate of 15% of the tree’s cross-sectional area.
However, if the trees are not replaced, the county may require the property owner to pay into the Tree Replacement Trust Fund.
The cost per square inch in cross-section is $56.52.
What other exceptions are there?
In emergency situations caused by a hurricane or other natural disaster, the felling regulations may be suspended under county law at the direction of the county manager.
Agricultural land, licensed plant wholesalers, or trees that “threaten the safety of motorists” and “disrupt public utilities” may also be removed.
However, the exceptions don’t apply to historic trees, which “may only be affected in accordance with county permitting requirements.”
Why is Volusia County protecting trees?
According to county statutes, “It is in the best interest of public health, safety and welfare to protect and conserve trees and enhance the tree population in Volusia County.”
According to the county, trees are important because they:
- Can reduce wind speed and noise level.
- Can prevent erosion by stabilizing soil through their root system and breaking the force of raindrops hitting soil surfaces.
- Reduce the amount of surface runoff and reduce the percentage of sealed surfaces.
- Help purify water by removing the nutrients from the water flowing through the soil from the surface to the water table.
- Provide shade and perspire water, which helps moderate temperatures and purify the air.
- Providing food, shelter and vital habitat for wildlife.
For Volusia County tree felling regulations, go to volusia.org/services/growth-and-resource-management and click on the Environmental Management tab.