By Rachel Brown Hackney
In early April, a Siesta Key homeowner cited for illegal removal in December 2019 of a number of trees on Sarasota County right of way asked staff to please let her know what steps to take “to get this matter resolved.”
Almost exactly four months later — with the homeowner having failed to comply with staff’s recommendations for a resolution — a county land development inspector said he had no choice but to proceed with opening a Code Enforcement case against the homeowner.
On Aug. 4, Environmental Specialist Darren Semones emailed Charlie Richison, the land development inspector, to ask whether Richison had heard or received recently anything from Mary Amos-King, identified on property records and county documents as the owner of the property at 5178 Oakmont Place. Semones added that he had driven by her parcel the previous day, “and it appears that more hedges have been planted down the parcel boundary that abuts the [county right of way] and are likely in the ROW [right of way].”
On Aug. 4, Semones also had emailed Amos-King, saying he wanted to follow up on the “requested planting plan pertaining to your … case, Notice of Violation Letter and mitigation plan. Staff would like a preliminary plan to review by Friday, Aug. 21st.”
County staff had issued the Notice of Violation this spring in regard to the illegal removal of trees, giving her time to pursue mitigation.
Howard Berna, manager of the Environmental Permitting Division, told the SNL in early March that an Affidavit of Violation — the next step in the Code Enforcement process — would be issued if Amos-King did not comply with county directives within a certain period of time. That affidavit would initiate a Code Enforcement hearing before a Special Magistrate, Berna added. That, in turn, could lead to a fine of $500 per day for repeated violations. The maximum fine a Special Magistrate can impose is $5,000, if the Special Magistrate finds the violation “to be irreparable or irreversible in nature,” Section 2-349 of the County Code says.
Since July 10, Amos-King has not corresponded with Semones, based on documents the SNL obtained through a public records request. In her last email, Amos-King continued to contend that she should not be liable to the county for the removal of the trees.
On July 16, Semones wrote her, explaining that a property survey she had provided county staff showed that the work of the tree service company she hired in December 2019 “exceeded [Amos-King’s] parcel boundary … and impacted the county ROW and canopy road …”
A week earlier — on July 7 — Amos-King emailed Semones to inform him she had been diagnosed with a serious illness and had lost her job. “So my bills will be skyrocketing and I have zero income,” she continued. Her treatment was to begin on July 16, she pointed out, and she would be “down and unavailable for six weeks give or take a few days … I would really like to get this resolved before July 16th if possible.”
On July 10 Semones responded. “We are in active communication currently to resolve the issue and as long as we continue to see actions and progress to address the issue time frames can be adjusted.”
Yet, with Amos-King remaining out of communication, Richison, the land development inspector, notified Semones via email on the morning of Aug. 5: “I have had no contact from the owner at [5178 Oakmont Place]. I guess I will have to proceed with a code case.”
At the end of December 2019, neighbors of Amos-King told the SNL they first notified the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office that trees were being taken down all over the 5178 Oakmont Place property, including canopy oaks that were favorites of many nearby residents.
County Property Appraiser’s Office records show Amos-King paid $1,125,000 for the 22,983-square-foot-parcel on Dec. 23, 2019.
In an April 15 email to Semones, Amos-King pointed out that the property was the first she had owned in Florida. She indicated unawareness of any violations involving county right of way, contending that she was relying on a tree service company to ensure that the actions were legal.
However, county staff members used routine aerial surveys to determine that seven cabbage palms had been removed from county right of way, plus one oak, as noted in county correspondence with Amos-King.
Initial efforts at resolution
In an April 23 letter, Semones provided Amos-King a chronology of the events documented by staff.
Amos-King responded, “At the time of all tree removal, it was unknown that the [county] ROW existed. It is my understanding that the tree company was basing [its] work off of the survey stakes in the lawn.”
Semones requested in one email that she provide staff with a copy of the survey of the parcel that was completed prior to her purchase of the land. Then, he continued, staff could verify the accuracy of her claim that her boundaries differed from those indicated by county aerial imaging. “Staff also suggested a resurvey of the property by a surveying company,” he wrote, so staff could compare that to county records.
Amos-King replied that she had made multiple attempts to reach her surveyor, but she had been unsuccessful. Later, she did provide a survey to staff.
However, Amos-King told Semones that she did not believe the boundary lines on his county map were 100% accurate.
Finally, she wrote, “I am trying my best to work with you, but I also believe in common sense and logic. I hired a licensed professional to survey the property and I hired a licensed professional to remove trees on the property. I can assure you that the last thing I would’ve done is knowingly [pay] money to have trees removed that are not on my property. Your staff was here, they saw the location of the survey stakes. There was no reason to think these trees were on county property.”