RPB Zoners: Seek Alternatives Before Removing Trees

The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission postponed a request Wednesday by the Lantern Walk community to remove more than a dozen mature oak trees and replace them with smaller trees, advising that the community seek alternatives.

The Lantern Walk Homeowners’ Association wants to replace the 14 trees because the oaks’ roots are dislodging sidewalks and driveways.

HOA President Valerie Gerold said the organization has been getting threats of lawsuits from elderly residents who have tripped over the roots.

Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin said the applicant had asked to remove the oaks and replace each of them with three foxtail or Christmas palms, or single cassias or queen crepe myrtles.

Erwin said the applicant also wanted to plant the replacement trees in different locations because the existing oak trees were planted in places too small to accommodate any kind of tree, and had supplied a replacement landscaping plan. He said staff recommended approval of the replacement plan.

Commissioner Darrell Lange, who is a landscaper, said he was reluctant to pull up the existing trees.

“We’re talking about sacrificing 50-year-old oaks because maintenance wasn’t done, no root pruning or anything else like that,” Lange said. “I don’t understand why we’re going to remove them instead of maintaining them.”

Lange said the way to prevent the roots from causing damage is to prune them and put in root shields. “I have a 150-year-old oak in my yard and it’s not ripping up the sidewalk or anything else like that because I maintain it,” he said.

Gerold said she has lived at Lantern Walk for seven years. “I’m not responsible for what’s been going on there for the last 30 years,” she said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t maintain the trees properly.”

Gerold said they have consulted numerous different landscape maintenance people who offered conflicting ideas for proper maintenance.

“They all give you a different answer, so the end result is we’re stuck with a community full of trees that are damaging our driveways, breaking our sewer lines, destroying our sprinklers, and we have to do something. People are complaining,” she said.

She added that it is a very expensive project for a community with 120 homes, at between $35,000 and $40,000.

“We don’t have the money,” she said. “This is not something we want to do. I happen to be a tree lover. I think they’re beautiful, but you can see in the pictures the roots running into driveways and digging up sidewalks. There’s nothing we can do other than remove those trees. They’re put on property no wider than this counter.”

Lange disagreed. “There’s always going to be exceptions, but the majority of the pictures I saw, and being in your community, I don’t think we need to remove them all,” he said.

“It’s a done deal, though,” Gerold said. “What am I going to do about something that was not done 25 years ago?”

“You can still do that,” Lange said. “I do it all the time throughout the county. I root-prune oaks all the time. I put shields down; there’s three different variations that we use. I think this is a huge, drastic measure without trying something else, and I can’t support it.”

Chairwoman Jackie Larson asked when Lantern Walk was built, and Erwin said the development was built in the 1980s when the only requirement was for a perimeter buffer and two trees per 1,500 square feet of lot space. “Those were the only requirements in the code at that time,” Erwin said.

“This whole thing is very sad,” Larson said. “The landscape architect obviously didn’t know what he was doing. In addition, I would agree with Commissioner Lange — the maintenance is such a must, especially when you have such a valuable thing like a hardwood down here.”

She asked whether Gerold had explored relocation for the trees. “There has been times when landscaping people come to your house and say, ‘You have a mature tree. Can I buy it from you?’” Larson said.

Gerold said she was not aware that relocation was a possibility. “Are you thinking that we relocate them on our property?” she asked.

“Relocating them, period,” Larson said. “That is an asset you have because I can guarantee you once you put these other things you’re talking about, your shade is gone. I’m not trying to fault you, but it is a very sad circumstance, and Darrell used the exact word, ‘sacrificing’ these beautiful trees because of all these things that have gone wrong.”

Larson pointed out that the village had moved old banyan trees at Commons Park that existed when it was the Tradition Golf Course.

Erwin said that some of the oaks in open spaces could possibly be moved but that those near sidewalks and driveways could not.

Larson said she still thought the HOA should explore other options.

Gerold said the situation is costing the association and homeowners huge amounts of money.

“I have people calling me every day with cracks in their foundation; the floors in their homes are cracking,” she said. “We are trying to improve our community, raise our values. We’re doing a very good job, I might add, on limited funds, but this is a huge expense for us.”

Lange offered to give Gerold the name of a person who works for the University of Florida who might be able to suggest a reputable landscaper who can offer alternatives. “I will tell you this — root pruning and saving them is in many cases cheaper,” Lange said.

Gerold agreed to look into alternatives, and Lange made a motion to postpone the item to the commission’s June meeting, which carried 4-0.