The Ormond Beach Tree Committee came before the City Commission last week with its proposal.
A new grassroots group has risen in the city of Ormond Beach, and its members are advocating for the creation of a new advisory board — one that solely focuses on trees.
The Ormond Beach Tree Committee was formed over the last year to preserve and protect trees and plants in the community in wake of recent clear-cutting and the heightened focus on resiliency efforts. As the nonpolitical group discussed what could be done to preserve the character of Ormond Beach, they came to the conclusion that they would like to see more native plants, hardier landscaping and preservation of mature trees and wetlands on both city property and new development, whenever possible, according to their presentation to the City Commission.
Committee Member Pam Novy said the group wants to keep its mission positive.
“We didn’t want to just wholesale criticize anybody," Novy said. "We wanted to be part of a solution."
As the group looked into Ormond's Tree City USA designation by the Arbor Day Foundation, a title the city has held since 1991, they discovered that one of the standards needed for the designation is that the city must have a tree board or department.
In the city, that board is known as the Quality of Life Advisory Board, which is comprised of seven members. Since 2014, trees and overall landscaping beautification have been discussed by the board about five times, and the latest was when Novy asked the board about its role in the Tree City USA designation.
Ormond Beach Public Information Officer Jenn Elston said in an email that the mentions of trees in the meetings are low because the board advises on diverse subjects and only looks at trees found on city property.
"The city of Ormond Beach continues to exceed the requirements to qualify as a Tree City USA and the implications that the group in question made were unfounded," Elston said.
Is what the city has in place enough?
City Commissioner Dwight Selby was the only commissioner at the Feb. 4 commission meeting to express he was intrigued by the concept of a tree board.
“I think there seems like there are some pretty knowledgeable people in that group and they seem like their hearts are in the right place," Selby said.
He added that the city currently has a comprehensive 18-page tree ordinance in place right now, but that if the group believes there are things that should be changed, he'd be willing to heart hem out.
At least one commissioner thinks that what the city is doing is enough. City Commissioner Troy Kent said adding a new advisory board would cost the city, as staff would need to be present and the city has to publicize the meetings. If people want to help, they can approach their commissioner and asked to be appointed to the Quality of Life Board, he said.
Moving forward, Kent said the city will now have its arborist attend all Quality of Life meetings where trees will be discussed.
“The city is a great steward of trees, and quite frankly, I want less government in my life," Kent said. "I don’t want more government, and I just think creating yet another board that we don’t need — because we already have a board that is doing the job — is not helping government run more efficiently.”
What a Tree Board would look like
At the Feb. 4 commission meeting, Novy along with fellow committee members John Burniston and Georgann Meadows presented the commissioners with a draft resolution to create a "Landscaping and Tree Advisory Board." Aside from residents willing to voluntarily serve, they proposed the board also include two experts (such as certified municipal or master arborists) that live within 30 miles of the city. A couple of the board's purposes would be to advise on historic tree removals and provide guidance on planting trees in the city's public spaces, according to the resolution.
It's meant to be a framework, Novy said. They're not looking to be the "tree police."
Meadows said there is a void in Ormond Beach in environmental issues, and attributed the city eliminating its environmental advisory board as the cause. She said Ormond should use the resources available to make environmental decisions.
“We don’t expect our commissioners to be tree experts," Meadows said.
The group also hopes that, if the city considers their proposal, the board could help bridge the city with its residents on tree matters.
Burniston, who is also the treasurer and vice-chair of the Volusia-Flagler group of the Sierra Club, emphasized that the Tree Committee doesn't have anything to do with politics. He said they want to help protect and preserve the environment, which happens to be one of the Sierra Club's mantras.
“That’s the part that sticks out for me," Burniston said.