Royal Palm Beach Easing Tree Replacement Standards

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved the first reading of an updated landscaping and vegetation management ordinance on Thursday, Jan. 21, modifying the minimum number of trees and shrubs required per lot in single-family homes and duplexes.

In accordance with state statutes, the ordinance is intended to minimize the replacement and mitigation requirements on homeowners.

The proposed ordinance would exempt single-family residences from the tree replacement requirements of the village code but clarify that the minimum landscape requirements remain applicable.

It also revises the village code to reduce the required number of shrubs per lot from 10 to six per 2,000 square feet of lot area. It also reduces the required tree and palm tree heights from 14 feet to 10 feet at the time of planting, and it reduces the shrub height and spread requirements from two feet to 18 inches, except when used for screening.

“In our tree preservation ordinance, there is a pretty hefty replacement schedule for taking out a specimen tree,” Village Manager Ray Liggins said. “If you have a 20-inch oak tree, you may have to put back four two-inch oak trees. A lot of properties didn’t have enough room for them. In that event, you would have to pay our tree account the value of those trees.”

He said that the state has determined that if there is a tree that is a threat to property or diseased, and an arborist has verified that, it can be taken out at no cost with no permit.

“That kind of put our staff in an awkward position,” Liggins said, explaining that the tree ordinance is difficult to enforce. “If someone took it out, we really wouldn’t know.”

The next time it would come for review would be when the owner applied for a permit. “The best we could ask them was if their lot did not have landscaping, they meet the minimum standards,” he said.

Liggins added that meeting those minimum landscaping standards is in the property owner’s best interest.

“With any permit that they get in the future for the house, we will check for minimum standards. If they do it sooner, we think that is better,” he said.

Liggins explained that the minimum standard is one tree for every 2,000 square feet of pervious area. Three palm trees equals one tree.

Councilwoman Selena Samios asked if the ordinance would give landowners leeway to start making large changes to their property.

“This not giving a free-for-all for people to start tearing up their yard, correct?” Samios asked. “It’s still maintaining quality? We want to preserve as many trees as we can.”

Liggins said that Samios was correct, adding that when someone applies for a permit, the village has the arborist come out and look at the property.

“What they will do is complete the permit for what they suggest for the piece of property in writing,” Liggins said. “It’s a no-cost permit. Our arborist will look at the property, and they will do that calculation on the minimum landscaping requirements and advise on the permit what they can do.”

Councilman Richard Valuntas made a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, which carried 5-0.