Safety Harbor commissioners push to protect oldest live oak tree in Pinellas County

A former Safety Harbor commissioner and local historians are pushing to preserve the reportedly oldest tree in Pinellas County

The Baranoff Oak has been a mainstay in downtown Safety Harbor for anywhere between 300 and 500 years. 

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"If you think about it, that's quite some time," Andy Zodrow said. "There are very few things here in Florida that have been around and still are here from that period of time."

The tree is located in Baranoff Park near 2nd Ave. It's named after Salem Baranoff, co-owner of a spa that was located next door. 

Baranoff was a notorious leader in the community and donated land nearby to build the Safety Harbor Library. 

"Salem Baranoff was such a big part of this community that in 2005, they decided to officially name the tree (after him)," Laura Kepner, a board member at the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center, said.

It wasn't until 2021 when the city bought the property and turned the nearby greenspace where the tree roots span, into Baranoff Park. 

"Beyond that, it currently doesn't have any protections other than that it is city property," Zodrow said. "We asked the city manager to put it into the charter to protect the tree in perpetuity." 

Now, Charter Amendment 4 can be found on the ballot for this upcoming municipal election. It's a referendum that would preserve the Baranoff Oak and Baranoff Park in perpetuity.

"Safety Harbor has really been discovered and it's booming with development going on downtown. Even though it's owned by the city, if three commissioners choose to enter into an agreement with a private property owner to develop a portion," Zodrow said. "There's a big push to find parking downtown I think there are certain people who would like to have this area dedicated to parking or more development downtown. I just wanted to have this area protected as a park for the residents."

The municipal election is on March 19th. Residents must register to vote by February 20th.