The protest leader, Brickell-area resident Miriam Moreno, contends the association and city officials had no right to negotiate a plan on behalf of neighborhood residents, most of whom she says were, like her, unaware of the project until notices went up on the median in late July.
Moreno acknowledged that many trees on the median need to be replaced because theyre sick or badly damaged either by 2005s Hurricane Wilma or because theyve been hit by cars.
But she says most residents simply want the median back the way it was, and shes skeptical of city officials claims that the replacement shade trees would be at least 20 feet tall. She especially dislikes that about 80 of the new trees will be palms.
Nobody wants that. This is not the Beach. What people want is for the canopy to remain, she said. I want my Royal Poincianas. I want those big trees.
City officials say thats exactly what Brickell would get: not saplings, but a net gain of 167 mature trees, including live oaks, gumbo limbos, pink tabebuias, black olives and wild tamarinds as well as several varieties of palms. In addition, said city capital improvements director Mark Spanioli, the median will get 10,000 shrubs and ground-cover plantings and, for the first time, an irrigation system.
In the end, they say, residents would get a far more attractive, and robust, median including 100 existing trees that will remain in place.
We walked it tree by tree with the intention of saving anything we could, Sarnoff said. We did everything right.
Sarnoff said the median had become a hodge-podge of healthy and damaged, leaning trees, including some well beyond their life span and seedlings growing randomly or impinging on the right of way. On several occasions, he said, tree limbs have fallen on the roadway, at least once striking a car hard enough to cause serious damage.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden arborist Bob Brennan, who inspected the median at the request of protesters, say both sides have a point. Many of the standing trees are hazardous, he said, while also questioning some choices made by the citys consulting arborist, who he said may have misidentified some specimens.
There are a lot of things that I would remove, which isnt going to make the neighbors any happier, Brennan said. But they took out things that probably did not need to be taken, and they didnt take things that should be taken. So I kind of question the thought pattern.
Sarnoff, whose district includes Brickell and partly overlaps with Suarezs, believes theres some politics in play in this. He claimed Suarez doesnt like the Brickell association because its leaders have complained the county has done little to help the area.
Sarnoff has also criticized Pego and agency engineers over a repaving project on the commercial portion of Brickell Avenue that he says did too little to slow speeding autos and improve pedestrian safety .
Through a spokesman, Pego said he concluded the city needed a permit for the project after getting the call from Suarez. Though the city is responsible for maintaining the Brickell median, the scope of the project exceeded that authority, Pego said. And though the agency has agreed to turn over jurisdiction over the full roadway to the city, that has not yet been formally approved, he said.
But Sarnoff said Pego attended at least one meeting with the Brickell association over the project and was aware of the project before getting Suarezs call.
Suarez, whose son, city Commissioner Francis Suarez, voted to approve the money for the Brickell project, denied politics was a motive. As he described it on his Facebook page, he called Pego after receiving a petition signed by 1,500 people. Suarez said he didnt ask Pego to halt the project and was unaware it had been stopped.
We were getting reports of trees cut down without proper permits. I dont like cutting down existing trees without reason, Suarez said. I think we ought to listen to the residents and see what their thoughts are.
Miami Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this story.