Save Tampa’s Trees


By Joe Chillura, Guest Columnist

Forty-five years ago I worked with the Hillsborough County Planning Commission to develop a tree ordinance for the City of Tampa. After almost one month of public hearings, debates and committee sessions, the ordinance was finally adopted by the Tampa City Council, and was signed by Mayor Dick Greco on June 20, 1972.

It is essential to understand that the significance of preserving trees is twofold: aesthetic endurance and the ecological value of maintaining a quality of life for coming generations. A developer friend concurred with the importance of tree preservation, but lamented the fact that a law had to be written to guarantee environmental preservation.

Ideally, man should police himself when the subject of ecology is presented, but I suppose that the reason man has not planned ahead for environment protection is as simple as original sin: The temptation to save money at the expense of nature. Thus the case for a tree ordinance.

During the lengthy period of debate on the need for tree preservation in Tampa, the opposition presented no valid arguments. The principal point of contention centered on the developer who felt that his rights were being deprived because he would now have to show due cause for removing trees before a building permit was issued. One does not have to be learned and well read on the subject of building and development to understand that it is indeed more economical to bulldoze 10 acres of wooded land, develop it, and then replant that which is minimal. Repeatedly, the argument was advanced that a parcel of land could be replanted with hundreds of saplings much more reasonably than working around those monsters that delay construction time and cost money. The argument is a weak one, for surely a hundred-year-old oak can never really be replaced. Destruction of these mighty giants would cause a serious depletion of oxygen-producing organisms; this would be impossible to correct in our lifetime and that of our children. So our community must continue to keep the importance of preserving trees in the forefront, when planning growth.  

Our science class in elementary school taught us that green leaves absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. In addition, leafy green plants and trees are a natural cleansing and filtering agent for physical contaminants in the air, much like an air conditioner’s filter. Airborne dust particles are caught on leaves and then washed away when it rains. Great clusters of trees are particularly beneficial when planted around manufacturing plants because they trap the winds and create settling chambers for dust and other contaminants produced by industrial operations. Trees help to reduce high frequency noises by serving as screens and buffers along highways, factories, and industrial properties which abut residential areas.

Trees also prevent erosion because their roots bind the soil. One can really understand that bulldozing all the trees on a parcel of land upsets the balance of natural vegetation and violates all principles of soil conservation. Trees are natural shading devices, much more efficient than mechanical shading devices. While trees shade, they also cool through the process of transpiration. Trees, as a natural resource, serve many functions in conserving the total balance of nature.

With reference to the aesthetic considerations of trees in the suburbs as well as the urban centers, they hide the ugly as well as enhance what is already naturally beautiful. The aesthetic importance of trees has been evident in European parks and squares long before the colonization of America.

Man’s relationship to trees becomes evident when trees are placed in an integral environment with man-made ideas. In developments and urban complexes, trees lend color, shape and pattern to an otherwise sterile environment, exemplified by the strict geometry of streets and sidewalks. Trees enhance the building arts, by helping to form the grand approach to a complex. They help to define the spatial quality of the environment by forming play areas for children, conversation spaces for adults, while creating a sense of serenity. Psychologically, existing trees on a developed site give an impression of completion as contrasted to the unnatural impression of a site barren of trees.

During this month when we celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day, it behooves the community as well as community planners and developers to uphold and preserve one of our most important natural resources: TREES.

On April 27, the Mayor’s Economic Competitiveness Committee will conduct a workshop at 9 a.m. The purpose is to hear from the development community on altering or repealing the Tree and Landscape Ordinance, which they find burdensome.

Architect Joe Chillura’s Career in public service began more than 44 years ago when he was elected to a four-year term on the Tampa City Council. Since that time, he has served a 12-year stint on the Hillsborough City County Planning Commission and on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1990-1998.

Chillura’s most celebrated accomplishment was crafting a solution to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from leaving Tampa after the team was purchased by Malcolm Glazer in the mid-90s. Almost every local government and civic leader made unworkable proposals to help build a new stadium to keep the team in Tampa. It was Joe Chillura who proposed the Community Investment Tax (CIT), a halfpenny sales tax that not only paid for a new stadium, but provided for sorely needed new schools, sidewalks, fire and law enforcement vehicles and equipment, repair and replacement of aging infrastructure and so much more.

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