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North Port Florida Tree Ordinance

Yesterday I got a call from the local newspaper regarding the local tree ordinance. The ordinance that the People for Trees, Inc is trying to pass reads that 80 percent of the tree canopy must be left on the lot. Right now builders just clear cut the lot when a home is built and plant three oak trees that usually die before the home is sold.

My opinion is that both sides are being unreasonable. I don't want North Port to be like a desert with no trees and a few houses sprinkled throughout. But I also don't think that charging builders $100 per inch of each tree they have to cut down, is the answer either. I think there needs to be a happy medium with the ordinance. The builders are also saying that if they leave trees on the lots it could be a fire hazard. Most lots in North Port are 80x125.

I look at nearby cities like Sarasota and in their downtown area the streets are lined with beautiful banyan and oak trees that have been there for 100 years. In the city of Sarasota there are also many homes built in the early 1900's. As far as the fire hazard goes I haven't heard of any of the wood built, early 1900's homes burning to the ground. I think that it's just easier to clear cut a lot for the builders than worrying about which trees need to be left on the property.

So, I have a few questions to the Rainers: Do you have a tree ordinance in your town? Do they remove all of the trees on the property when they build a home or are they required to keep some? How is it working out for your city?

I'm going to copy and paste the news article in which they quoted me this morning because it will only be accessible for 24 hours.

02/06/07

Mortgage, real estate industries hit hardest

Proposed tree ordinance might price future homes out of reach to many The proposed tree ordinance would require the home builder to pay $100 per inch for removal of trees such as pines and oaks in the footprint of their homes and on the entire lot.

NORTH PORT -- Real estate and mortgage companies say the proposed tree ordinance can keep home ownership out of reach for many potential buyers.

North Port city commissioners are reviewing a proposed tree ordinance prepared by the Blue Ribbon Ad Hoc Tree Committee that calls for preserving 80 percent of the existing tree canopy and expensive fees to remove trees that are at least 4.5 inches in diameter.

The ordinance would require paying $100 per inch for removal of trees such as pines and oaks. For example, to remove one six-inch tree will cost $600. For trees on its "priority tree list," it will cost 1.5 times the base fee. For Heritage trees, it's triple -- costing $300 per inch.

If a lot has 50 trees that are at least each six inches, it would cost $30,000 to remove them.

North Port custom builder Nick Bonsky said typical lots in the city containing oaks and pine trees could cost $20,000 to $37,000 to clear just for the footprint of the home and a potential pool area.

Those in the mortgage and real estate industries say adding this proposed ordinance to the financing formula will make it "virtually impossible" to sell or finance building new homes, especially for workforce housing.

Cristi Ping, a loan processor for Countrywide Homes in Port Charlotte, said that depending on how much it costs to remove the trees, it might negatively effect a buyer or owner trying to obtain financing.

"They might have to take a personal loan to take care of that (tree removal) first," Ping said. "The other option is it (to add it as) part of the cost of construction."

In each case, this will effect the loan-to-value ratio, and might raise it too high for most lenders to write a mortgage, Ping said.

LTV is one of the key risk factors that lenders use when qualifying borrowers for a mortgage. This measures the risk a lender has to absorb if the loan defaults. As the LTV of a loan increase, the qualification guidelines for certain mortgage programs become more strict.

For example, if a borrower wants $130,000 to purchase a house worth $160,000, the LTV is 81 percent ($130,000 divided by $160,000). Then if $30,000 is added to the purchase price, then the buyer would have to borrow $160,000, or 100 percent LTV if the cost of tree removal is not added to the cost of building the house. Ping said this could also happen if someone owns the lot, then decides to build later.

Shannon Moore, a Realtor with Prudential Florida WCI Realty in North Port, said that would make it tough to sell lots.

"The house or lot would not appraise out correctly," Moore said adding appraisers use the comparison method, or "comps" to determine value of a lot or house. "There will not be any comps supporting it."

For an appraisal, Moore said there needs to be three properties within one mile of each other, sold within the last six months, and the property must be similar to the comps used.

For example, Moore said, you can buy a three-bedroom two-bath 1,152 sq. ft. house built in 2007 for $165,900. With the proposed ordinance, the same home might cost $195,500 to build, but would be valued at $165,900 by an appraiser. Moore said this would increase the amount someone has to borrow to purchase or build a house, changing the debt-to-income ratio.

The debt-to-income ratio is a key risk factor lenders look at, and a ratio too high might effectively price the home out of reach to many borrowers.

Moore said if the ordinance becomes law, it will have to be disclosed.

"We will have to tell prospective buyers that they might have to pay more in fees before they can build," Moore said.

Moore said the prospective buyer would have to get their own estimate from a land clearing company on how much additional it would cost before they purchase the lot.

"This could make a lot worth only $25,000 cost $50,000," Moore said.

Moore said she thinks the city's Blue Ribbon Ad-Hoc Tree Committee has gone to the other extreme.

"There needs to be a balance between the building community and the those wishing to preserve trees," Moore said.

"My opinion is that requiring an 80 percent canopy is unreasonable," Moore said. "However, to require the builder to leave more than three scraggly oak trees that will die is also not acceptable."

Moore said between Multiple Listing and private offerings, there are about 4,000 vacant lots, and about 1,200 homes built in 2006 and 2007 that are empty.

If the ordinance becomes law, Moore said it would make the empty homes more appealing, but said that is short-term. After all these homes sell, Moore said it will become "difficult to build."  

By GEORGE MCGINN

Staff Writer

Comment balloon 0 commentsShannon Moore • February 06 2007 09:01AM

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