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Alachua Property Owners Fined For Tree Cutting Violations

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A 55-acre property in Alachua, Fla., was at the center of a recent code violation. During the weekend of March 15 and 16, more than 15 trees were cut down on the property without a permit, and the city of Alachua was alerted to the violation.

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The property, which is valued at $1.8 million, is located on U.S. Highway 441 and stretches to the CSX Railway. It lies between Waste Pro and the Phoenix Warehouse.

Robert Rush — the Alachua city attorney’s brother — and Tom R. Sperring and Associates own the property, which is currently on the market.

Rush said Sperring contracted with Gaston Tree Service to examine some pines on the land in question that were in poor health. These pines were recommended to be cleared as part of a forestry plan that Sperring and Associates had arranged with Forest Conservation Planning Services, LLC., and in accordance with the Florida Forest Service.

According to Rush, Gaston employees were later stranded on the property when the gate the crew originally entered through was locked. In order to get out, he said the workers cut down 15 of the old pines to access a different driveway.

A witness to the operation reported the violation to the city’s code enforcement department. When a department representative reached the property, the Gaston crew stopped cutting immediately and voluntarily.

Because of the crew’s compliance, the resulting $1,500 fine was from a failure to adhere to standard procedures more than it was a punitive action, or as Alachua’s Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari said, “putting the cart before the horse.”

Following the fine, Sperring and Associates then arranged a settlement in which they paid off the fine and, to prevent future code violations, classified the property as a a “bona fide commercial forestry operation,” Boukari said.

On March 20, less than a week after the initial violation, Alachua City Manager Tracy Cain signed the settlement exempting Sperring and Associates from section 6.2 of the city’s land development regulations.

Though the violation was resolved, Rush said he and the rest of the property’s owning group may file a suit against the person that locked the gate. Although Rush could not confirm the identity of the person that locked the gate, he said he believed it was an individual he’d had confrontations with in the past.

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