Coral Gables neighbors fighting to protect old oak tree

07/08/2014 4:35 PM

07/08/2014 6:00 PM

A 45-foot live oak looming over a lot on Lisbon Street has many neighbors looking out for it — neighbors who are willing to take a fight with a developer to City Hall to make sure the tree isn’t touched.

About 60 residents near the tree’s home at 1011 Lisbon St., a 5,250-square-foot lot, where Palmcorp Development Group wants to build a 2,300-square-foot home, think the home’s construction would mutilate the tree and eventually kill it. The developer has insisted it will build the home behind the tree and leave it untouched.

After the plans received approval from the city’s Board of Architects in late June, neighbors weren’t convinced. Jorey Friedman, an architect who’s lived on that block for nine years, on Monday filed an appeal to the board’s decision, which puts the matter in the hands of the City Commission at a future meeting.

“We are all of the belief that per the submitted and approved drawings for a 2,300-square-foot home on this lot, the large native live oak tree on the property will not only suffer a loss of its major limbs on the east side of the tree, rendering it severely unbalanced, but it may not survive the impact of construction to its trunks and root structure due to the close proximity of the building foundations and proposed drain field,” she wrote in an email sent to city commissioners, city staffers and the developer on Tuesday.

In an interview Monday, she said if the developer can convince her the tree will survive development, she’ll back off the appeal.

“In the next week or so, if they can convince me, I’ll withdraw,” she said.

Carlos Tosca, one of Miami-based Palmcorp’s owners, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday the plans have always been to work around and preserve the tree. He called Friedman’s efforts “excessive” because Palmcorp has followed all of the city’s protocols so far.

“We’re following all the city’s rules and we’re still being delayed and delayed,” he said, adding that the neighbors’ concerns have led the city to bring extra scrutiny to his application, which has led to the delays that are costing him thousands of dollars each month.

Friedman has asked Palmcorp to allow an arborist hired by the neighbors to look at the site and assess the impacts construction would have on the live oak.

Tosca said he didn’t know if he would allow that, considering arborists from the city and hired by Palmcorp have already give their approval.

“A neighbor approving your plan is outside the normal operating procedures,” he said.

Charles Wu, the city’s assistant director of development services, wrote in an email that Palmcorp’s plans are currently under review by code compliance, and discussion over how to best protect the tree could be a part of it.

“Staff is now in the process of conducting its review to ensure code compliance,” he wrote. “This review may involve further discussions with the developer and its development team on best practices to ensure the trees are preserved as intended.”

He said Tuesday that the city is working with the developer and Friedman to resolve the appeal before it would have to reach the commission.

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