Save our Heritage Live Oak!

Two weeks ago I came home to find a developer's backhoe tearing down my fence. Inside my fence is a 250 year old heritage live oak tree. It was targeted for destruction.  The surveyor had made a mistake. But he had the permit.  Since then I have been fighting with the city and developer to no avail.  Now we have applied for an injunction. I am not a wealthy man and the legal fees are at least $5000.  It's about saving a heritage tree, but it's also about fighting to protect neighborhoods from predatory developers and about demanding integrity and transparency in city government. That's what this fight is about. If you can help even a tiny bit with the legal fees, you're helping these causes!

Here is a letter Meg Niederhofer wrote to the Gainesville City Commissioners. Meg served as Gainesville's city Arborist's for 23 years, so she has devoted most of her adult life to the protection of Gainesville's most important trees.  The title Gainesville claims, "Tree City" is due to Meg's tireless work.  Please help finance this legal battle to defend our city's trees.

Honorable Commissioners:

Today I heard an impassioned plea for justice regarding a High Quality Heritage Live Oak (60” in diameter). The tree is very likely older than our nation and in excellent condition, and it should not be removed as a result of circumstances that appear to derive from mistakes in the application of Land Development ordinances.

The City’s Technical Review Committee relies on accurate survey information in preparing recommendations for the Development Review Board’s approval. An inaccurate survey appears to be at the foundation of the problem. It is true the developer is in the process right now of preparing an accurate survey, but all the subsequent actions the City has taken were based on a flawed foundation. This is cause for real concern when the consequences of the inaccuracy could be the taking down of a monumental tree that was not really on the property owned by the developer at the time his project was under consideration by the City. An erroneous survey is not a problem you fix after the fact and continue with the plan if the consequence is injustice.

Lee Malis, who has owned and occupied his home at 311 NW 7th Terrace thought the tree was on his property because it is inside his fence line. He knew that a developer wanted to build an apartment complex on the property to the east, but assumed the tree inside his fence was not in jeopardy. However, when the contractor cleared the lot, he was stunned when they began to remove what he thought was his Live Oak. He was shown the survey, and the tree was indeed shown to be removed, but the location given for the tree was wrong. It showed it approximately 30’ off his property line and clearly in the middle of the site to be developed. The inaccurate survey was the basis of the City review and Development Review Board approval. The Building department issued a demolition permit and collected $30,000 for the Tree Mitigation Trust Fund.

Mr. Malis appealed to me for help in this matter, which is more complicated than I have explained. I listened to the circumstances and looked at the tree, and I agree that he is right to be concerned. The actions seem hasty and the grounds on which the development order was approved seem flawed, if indeed the survey and tree ownership information were incorrect in the application package. I have not seen the survey the demolition contractor was using, but I did see the new survey markers.

As the stewards of our community’s integrity, I hope you will ask the City Manager to request staff to meet with Mr. Malis and provide to you and to him a summary of the actions that were taken regarding approval of this development. The tree is certainly worthy of consideration for preservation. It is exactly the kind of tree our ordinances intend to protect. And the City would not want to be party to a taking of someone’s personal property based on erroneous information. If the survey was wrong and the neighborhood meeting was not in compliance with the regulations, then the approval process was compromised. It may be a series of simple mistakes, bureaucratic misinterpretation, or short-term greed that has resulted in this situation. Whatever the causes turn out to be, I hope clarity will be brought to determining the fate of this majestic tree which has lived so long and provided so many environmental benefits to our community.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Meg Niederhofer
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Lee Malis 
Gainesville, FL

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