City, war veteran reach agreement over tree trimming

Korean War veteran Gene Chaput never imagined having the trees he planted on his property 38 years ago trimmed would land him in hot water. 

Chaput, 89, lives on Scenic Lakeshore Drive in Howey-in-the Hills.  He was worried about his house getting damaged by falling limbs, especially after this hurricane season, so he made arrangements to cut on the trees.  

"I went down to the City Hall, and they said I didn't need a permit to trim, but if I were to remove a tree, I would need a permit for that," Chaput explained.

But city code enforcement, which in Howey-in-the-Hills is staffed by police officers, told him to stop what he was doing. They said what Chaput was not trimming the trees, but rather, he was "hat racking," or chopping off the tops of the trees -- which is not allowed. 

"Unfortunately there are codes, and we have to enforce them," said Corporal Wesley Miller, with the Howey-in-the Hills Police Department.  "We don't want to sometimes. There are other things we would rather do then worry about tree trimming!"

Chaput received two notices to stop, had several visits to the home by code enforcement, even had a special hearing, and was threatened with fines.  Chaput said he twice got permission from the city to cut on the trees.  He and city did reach an agreement on the matter, saying that the problem came down to a lack of proper communication about tree trimming restrictions.