Send Ben: Grandmother left on a limb by City over tree dispute

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A grandmother is caught between the City of Jacksonville and Duval County Public Schools after a large tree branch smashed into her property.

“How long have you lived here?,” Action News Jax’s Ben Becker asked Ola Mills, 81. “Since 1971,” said Mills who has a lot of fond memories of her westside home but now all she sees is the potential for bad ones because of numerous trees along her backyard. “All of these here need to be cut down, they are all rotten,” said Mills who showed Becker the damage caused after one branch crashed down on her shed from a ditch between her home and Frank H. Peterson High School.

“This is your property line and all of this belongs to?” asked Becker. “Whoever,” said Mills.

Mills showed Becker page after page of documented calls and emails she sent to both the City and the school district in the past year to get someone to take responsibility for the property damage and to prevent future problems.

That’s when Becker got involved and experienced the same kind of government finger-pointing.

The City told Becker in an email: “The property that the tree is located on is maintained by the school board, not the City. We notified the Risk Manager for the School Board so he can follow up. We will reach out to Ms. Mills again, but we relayed this information to her in July. Our claim has been closed since September 2020.”

But it got complicated when Becker called the school district who told him that while it owns the land, the City is responsible for taking care of it.

Becker went through hundreds of pages of documents and found a permit signed by the City in 2007 and a 2008 easement agreement stating the City “shall keep the land in good condition.”

Becker talked to real estate attorney Barry Ansbacher to clear this up.

“Sometimes the easement holder has certain duties to the landowner in order to maintain the easement and how to maintain the property that there using,” said Ansbacher.

The Duval County Property Appraiser’s Office confirmed to Becker what he discovered and agreed that the City is responsible — and after yet another email to the City, it turned over a new leaf promising to make it right for Mills, saying “The city is waiting on an estimate to fix the shed, and has been in contact with the homeowner to resolve the issue.”

“What made you reach out to me?” Becker asked Mills. “I had heard a lot of people saying you were good at doing things when you needed somebody to help you,” said Mills.

“Glad to help,” said Becker.

If you think there’s a dangerous or dead tree on City property threatening your property, you can contact the City of Jacksonville to investigate by calling 630-CITY.

Action News Jax put a list of trees the city has marked for removal below:

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