The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved a request that it tabled a month ago from the Lantern Walk Homeowners’ Association to replace 13 oak trees that community officials said were pushing up the sidewalks.
Once removed, the oaks will be replaced by other trees planted away from the sidewalks.
At the commission’s May meeting, staff had recommended approval of the application, but commissioners said they did not want to pull up 30-year-old oaks.
Commissioner Darrell Lange, a landscaper, said the trees had not been maintained properly through root pruning and other means, and would prefer that the applicant seek other alternatives.
On Tuesday, Site Plan Coordinator Kevin Erwin said Lantern Walk, located on the east side of Royal Palm Beach Blvd. next to the Village Golf Club, had wanted to replace the oak trees with triple foxtails, Christmas palms, cassias or queen crepe myrtles, but the applicant indicated that they would be willing to replace the trees with oak trees instead if the commission preferred oaks instead of the trees originally chosen.
“They did supply a map showing the location of the trees to be removed,” Erwin said. “They also obtained the water and sewer plan, which clearly shows that the water and sewer lines run very close to being under the trees.”
Erwin said the HOA proposes to plant the new trees in areas that are open space to improve the vistas and shade in those areas. He also pointed out that there are no curbs in the areas where the existing trees are located, which makes them vulnerable to being hit by vehicles.
Erwin added that, although the development was built prior to Palm Beach County’s purchase of the village’s water utility, its standards require a minimum 20-foot-wide easement in order to ensure that neither structures nor trees or shrubs are placed any closer than 10 feet to an apartment or home in order to maintain pipes and other water-related structures unless a proper root barrier were to be installed.
HOA President Valerie Gerold said she thought they had now met all the criteria the commission had asked for, and that she had brought a certified arborist with her to the meeting.
Arborist Mark Baker said that the trees Lantern Walk wants to remove would never meet current standards, and most of them have wounds from recent hurricanes. Baker said there is ample open space in the development where new trees could be planted, but that he would not want to try to uproot and move the existing trees.
For tree choices, he encouraged diversification, avoiding palm trees because they are susceptible to whiteflies.
To enhance the fronts of houses where there is enough space, he recommended crepe myrtles or other, smaller trees that would meet the growing space and also enhance the property.
“They have plenty of open space to put tons of maples and oaks and a whole diversification of trees throughout their property,” Baker said. “They just need to go in the right direction, with the proper permitting, submit a nice site plan, identify the trees that need to be removed, also identify where they’re going to go back in.”
Baker said a big problem in South Florida is a lack of certified arborists to trim the trees properly. “If a tree is properly pruned, it can control root mass and root issues in a community 25 or 30 years down the road,” Baker said. “Proper pruning can eliminate 90 percent of issues and problems in the urban forest.”
Baker added that liability is another issue that he has dealt with, providing testimony in cases where people have tripped on broken or raised sidewalks and injured themselves. “Liability is the biggest issue when someone with certification steps on a property and recognizes that, but also brings it to a representative or homeowner’s attention,” Baker said.
Commissioner Joseph Boyle wanted to focus on the plan presented to the commission and whether it meets ordinance requirements.
“You are proposing to remove certain trees because of potential problems either with the sewer or something like that, and you have a plan to replace them?” Boyle asked Gerold. “The replacement trees that you are going to use meet the village requirements as far as replacement, is that correct?”
Erwin said that the replacement plan in the original application met the code.
Vice Chair Richard Becher said he regretted that the association had to replace the trees, and that the trees would be lost due to improper care, but said the action was warranted.
“Frankly, I can’t find any code to prevent you from pulling out these trees at this time,” Becher said.
Lange was concerned that there was no comprehensive landscape plan, and Erwin said they have a landscape plan but that it’s faulty because it locates trees over the water lines.
Baker said he can submit a proper landscape plan, recommending maple, oak, a species of magnolia and single-trunk crepe myrtle.
“I can create that site plan for you,” he said. “I just want to make everybody happy.”
Becher made a motion to approve the application with conditions that the four types of trees cited by Baker be used. The motion carried 5-0.