Local News

Commissioners favor relaxed landscape regs

SEBRING Should an automobile or portable shed dealer, or a rental business be required to plant rows of trees and shrubs that hide its outdoor inventory? “That’s not conducive to business,” said Chairman Jack Richey. “I object to that.” So did the rest of the Highlands County commissioners in a public hearing Tuesday. If the purpose of landscaping is to beautify commercial areas, Richie proposed, how about allowing the business and the engineering department decide whether clusters of trees or hedges would be appropriate, instead of lines.
“We discussed this at great length in committee,” said County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete. In January 2012, the commissioners requested staff examine the current landscaping requirements with stakeholders, which include the Natural Resources Advisory Commission, Highlands County Homeowners Association, nurserymen, landscape architects, local business owners, contractors and engineers. A landscape code was drafted and presented to NRAC, reviewed by County Attorney Ross Macbeth, and presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission. On Tuesday, the plan those parties hammered out was presented to the commission. The plan included drip irrigation, firewise and Florida-friendly vegetation, and a zone between the shore and the water. Recommended plant materials were specific to American and Florida elms, for instance, and eight varieties of palm trees. Prohibited: Rosary Pea, Silk Tree, Alligator Weed and about 100 other plants. When shrubs are required by the landscaping code, they must in three-gallon containers with a minimum height of 36 inches within 12 months of planting. Buffers should be located on the outer perimeter, the proposed rule said. “When planted as a hedge, shrubs shall be planted in a double-staggered rows and maintained so as to form a continuous, unbroken, solid visual screen within one year…” “A cluster of trees is going to block everything,” said Commission Don Elwell, who is also the sales and marketing manager for Alan Jay Automotive. Businesses should have the option of relocating trees, Richie said. But he asked that the engineering department control and enforce that variance. Lake Placid Town Councilman Ray Royce rose from the audience to say other planning areas of the county “may be for different rules … with an emphasis on beautification.” Those rules may favor landscaping over business, he said. “We would like a more vegetative look along the highway.” Commissioners promised to study the matter again in a second public hearing on May 7. At Macbeth’s request, commissioners struck a clause in the county’s new long distance plan which would require “the customer (the county) will not obtain the services… from any other provider for a period of 180 days.” “That’s illogical from a business standpoint, and it may need the approval of the voters,” Macbeth advised the commissioners. “I could not vote for this with that in there,” Richie said. “I told them already I was making that recommendation,” Macbeth said. “What was their candid response?” Elwell asked. “They didn’t make a response,” Macbeth said. “It seemed like a scurrilous penalty.” The commissioners approved the strikethrough, although Elwell predicted CenturyLink would not accept the contract. Commissioners also forgave more than $600,000 in mortgages loaned to residents in 2006 under the State Housing Initiative Partnership and the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program. When clients complete the terms of their loans, such as meeting residency requirements, “the mortgages need to be satisfied,” Jeannie DuBenion wrote in a memo to commissioners.


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