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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 5 months ago

Police investigating tree removals in Oakland Park

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More than a dozen trees were reportedly cut down without approval in the community near Lake Apopka.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

A Winter Garden Police Department detective is searching for the person or people who  cut down 14 trees without authorization in the Oakland Park neighborhood earlier this month.

According to a notice from the Oakland Park Homeowner’s Association, a routine inspection Thursday, Feb. 13, revealed the trees were cut down near the walking trail off the bank of Lake Apopka by the east shore retention pond.

The damage occurred at some point after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, according to the statement.

“This action was not approved by the HOA, as this is a conservation area and the removal of the trees is prohibited,” the statement read. “This type of trespass and damage to a designated conservation area is a serious violation in Oakland Park.”

Because the conservation easement is on association property, the HOA now will have to replace the trees, according to the notice. The HOA also could be subject to significant penalties and fines.

A police report has been filed with the Winter Garden Police Department, and the matter is currently under investigation by a detective. According to the report, the incident took place in the area of 1194 Union Club Drive, and the party responsible faces potential criminal mischief charges.

Jim Gleason, who has lived in Oakland Park for about eight years, said it’s unfortunate to see someone take down that many trees and without proper approval. Getting new trees of a comparable size won’t be cheap — based on his experience working as the Mascotte city manager in Lake County. Those trees will easily cost $300 to $400 apiece, he said.

“As an HOA member — collectively, that’s HOA property, that’s part of the park system, the integrated park system that was designed for the community — that’s frustrating,” Gleason said. “That’s 14 trees that are going to need to be replaced, and that’s going to come out of our pockets as dues payers, and we already pay a substantial amount every year for the privilege of what they offer us in there. … They’ve added a financial burden to the HOA, and it’s kind of hard to justify why they were removed.”

Whoever was responsible may have been looking to enhance a view of the lake, Gleason said, adding that it’s still a mystery who did it and how they weren’t stopped.

“Having known the residents and everybody around there, we all talk and knew it happened — meaning when it was reported,” he said. “But nobody saw it — nobody heard it. At least I didn’t on my end. You would think there were chainsaws or something going on, that someone would have heard that.”

Oakland Park resident Will Blaine said many residents living near a lake may be tempted to cut down trees to enhance a view, but it’s still wrong if they aren’t on your property, he said.

“You have to go through the right channels,” Blaine said. “I live on a lake — Lake Brim — and, frankly, it would be nice to take out a few trees for a better view. But you just don’t do it because, one, they’re not your trees and, two, you kind of go into it when you buy the property. That’s what you’ve got.” 

Oakland Park is offering a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction. 

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Winter Garden Police Department at (407) 656-3636.

Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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