Urban Forester To Help RPB Implement Landscape Rules

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council spent almost two hours Thursday, Oct. 18 workshopping the first major overhaul of its landscaping ordinance since 2001.

Council members reiterated their desire to remain designated as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation, a designation Royal Palm Beach has held since 1990, and unanimously voted to proceed with the first reading of a new ordinance next month that will focus on tree preservation, along with a public education program that will employ the services of an urban forester.

“The landscaping clause has not been updated since 2001,” Director of Planning & Zoning Bradford O’Brien said. “Since the village is almost built out, this new ordinance shifts focus from requirements for new building to preserving trees and the aesthetic value of property over time.”

The new ordinance will apply to residential properties, shopping centers and other commercial properties. “People have moved to the village because of our lush parks and outdoorsy feel,” O’Brien said as he explained that adoption of the new ordinance was important to keeping the Tree City USA designation.

Much discussion took place on the value of trees to a community and the benefit of the “Urban Forest Concept,” which takes a holistic view of all the trees within a community. Some of the benefits of a healthy canopy of trees include: enhanced property values, tree shade lowering temperatures, the reduction of storm runoff and protection from high winds.

“Just three strategically placed trees can decrease utility bills by 50 percent, and studies have found general increases of up to 37 percent in residential property values with the presence of healthy trees and vegetation on a property,” O’Brien said.

Mayor Fred Pinto stressed that the goal is to work with the community to get compliance with any new regulations.

“We really want to work with residents, HOAs and property managers on this,” he said. “We have budgeted to hire an arborist or urban forester to create educational and outreach materials that we want to be clear and easy for everyone to understand.”

The new arborist will start as a contract position, using a budget of $40,000 that the village has set aside.

Council members favored proceeding with the first and second readings of the new ordinance, which could become effective as early as Dec. 6, followed by a six-month grace period during which time the village will conduct public education and outreach.

The current tree ordinance mostly grandfathers-in properties that were developed before 2001. According to village staff, some of the problems with the existing ordinance is that it does not provide guidance on tree preservation techniques, it does not stop a property owner from removing healthy trees or prevent the clear-cutting of land. “The result of the existing ordinance is that the village is facing significant loss of tree canopy over time,” O’Brien said.

The new ordinance will place special value on “specimen trees.” These trees are highly valuable to a community based on their age, size and species. Examples of specimen trees per the new ordinance include mature bald cypress, gumbo limbo, live oaks, royal palm and royal poinciana.

The new ordinance addresses what O’Brien called “tree abuse.”

“The current code doesn’t give clear standards or guidance to property owners about what constitutes tree abuse,” he said.

The new code outlaws practices such as hat racking, or trimming a tree so drastically that it’s robbed of its entire canopy, which damages the health of trees and hurts their ability to withstand high winds as the foliage grows back in an unnatural pattern. He offered slides of hat-racked 20-year-old mahogany trees at a local shopping plaza, which he said precipitated the new ordinance.

Pinto stressed the importance of public education during the six months following the effective date of the new ordinance.

“We can all agree on the importance of trees,” he said. “Our mission is to protect property values and quality of life. I want staff to be as pro-active as possible on working with the public during the implementation of this ordinance.”

In other business:

• The council voted to continue the Wednesday and Sunday green markets at Veterans Park. The late Wednesday afternoon green markets held over the summer were a success. The weekly green markets restart on Sunday, Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 3 to 7 p.m.

• With the closure of the only retail store selling puppies in the village, the council amended its new ordinance prohibiting the retail sales of dogs or cats at stores in the community, eliminating the phase-out period. This made it illegal immediately to retail dogs or cats within Royal Palm Beach.