By Tom Harmening
NORTH PORT — Discussion of rules to protect trees in North Port took up most of the special City Commission meeting Thursday afternoon.
After a lengthy discussion, the panel decided to use the Sarasota County tree ordinance as a foundation for the city rules, while strengthening parts that the commission feels are too weak to adequately protect North Port trees.
“We have spent 90 minutes discussing trees, so I hope the rules we are proposing are adequate,” Mayor Chris Hanks said during the session. “I think we must protect trees in the city, but we have to be very careful about what we do. We cannot regulate residents out of their rights to their own property.”
Changes requested of the city staff on the proposed ordinance, which will come before the commission in September, include higher fines for anyone who takes part in clear cutting construction sites without permission and noting how palm trees can be deemed as adequate shade trees.
The goal of the ordinance is to maintain a minimum 35% tree canopy in the city.
Currently, the tree canopy is estimated at 35.6%, according to officials.
Sewer, water grant sought
The North Port City Commission also authorized Mayor Chris Hanks to sign an application for a state grant to extend sewer and water lines to an area north of the Interstate 75-Sumter Boulevard interchange.
Extending service could allow the establishment of office parks, a medical facility and hotels.
The city estimates as many as 4,800 jobs could be created by such services in the area.
The lines would extend about two miles to the I-75 and Sumter Boulevard area. The grant is for about $2.8 million if approved.
Commissioners voted to divert $892,750 in funds currently set aside for sewer and water growth in the Madagascar Avenue area near LaMarque Elementary School to serve as matching funds for the grant.