City arborist serves by tending the trees in North Miami Beach

04/16/2014 6:13 PM

04/16/2014 6:14 PM

Drive the streets of North Miami Beach with the city arborist, Carlos Rivero and you’ll never look at a street median the same.

In fact, some of those mature mahogany, oak and poinciana trees that shade Northeast 13th Avenue between 151st and 159th streets were once little seedlings in Rivero’s backyard.

“I wanted to make these medians more of an asset and less of a forgotten space. A lot of our medians were from the late ’80s and ’90s and the soil had oxidized and looked dated,” said Rivero, who also is the acting city planner.

For more than two decades, Rivero has been on a mission to enhance the character and safety of the neighborhoods and public streets in North Miami Beach. He has grown trees from seed from his home and the city’s Hazel Fazzino Nursery, which occupies six residential lots at the intersection of Northeast 15th Avenue and 159th Street.

Over the years, he developed an inventory of every tree in the city. This is significant because North Miami Beach has its own tree-protection ordinance, which allows the city to collect mitigation fees for every tree that is unlawfully removed. Last month, Rivero was awarded the 2013 Outstanding Professional award from the Florida Urban Forestry Council.

“His work has helped the city save $100,000. At a time when cities are feeling budgetary limitations, this city under Carlos’ leadership has been able to make trees a priority,” said Justin Freedman, of the Florida Urban Forestry Council.

In the two largest single-family neighborhoods in the city, there is major median problem that Rivero has his eyes on. In the adjoining Sunray East and Sunray West enclaves, early plans called for medians in the center of the streets. Instead, roads were built without medians, and the extra land was left on the sides of the street.

The problem is that many homeowners mistakenly believe the land belongs to them, and use the land for parking, driveways, fences, landscaping or other purposes. That leads to code violations.

“These neighborhoods were originally platted to have medians, but they were never built so that left a huge space of public property between the street and the homeowner’s yard,” he said.

Strips of city-owned land about 30 feet deep lie in front of each homeowners yard. The city maintains these areas, which add up to 71 acres that is not producing tax revenue for the city. Rivero said if the city abandons the land to the homeowners, it would clear up 90 percent of the code violations and enhance property values.

“We’re working on it as part of our strategic planning for growth in the city. This would bring revenue right away and give homeowners an opportunity to do substantial improvements on their property,” said Rivero.

There are 13 neighborhoods in the city, and according to Rivero, each has a unique identity that is punctuated by its landscape preferences.

“In Jewish communities, they love their shade trees because they do a lot of walking, and the Caribbean folks love their coconut palm trees,” said Rivero. “When you plant a tree in a neighborhood, the residents feel appreciated,” he said.

In the Oakgrove neighborhood, in the southwest of the city, Rivero sought the help of the South Florida Flowering Tree Society to create a special walkway in the median that was formerly “a blank canvas,” that separated the neighbors, he said. African tulip and kapok trees, which bloom at different times were among the additions that attracted residents to walk along the path of the median.

“It really made a big difference for the neighborhood. Now people are walking on the shaded walkway and they are quick to report any litter or disturbance. They feel proud and respect it,” said Rivero.

Across the street at the Hosea Sauls Park, 15901 Miami Dr., the city will celebrate Arbor Day on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon.

During the week leading to Arbor Day celebrations, the city will plant 22-foot-tall, Florida royal palm trees along Miami Drive.

On the day of the event, tree lovers will have a chance to celebrate the culmination of the planting of the last few trees. The city will be offering free native trees and delivery to residents who want to enhance their property. The offerings include green and silver buttonwood trees, dahoon holly, poinciana and a few gumbo limbo trees.

“We are such a full-service city,” Rivero said. “We have the trucks and will make free deliveries. In fact, during religious holidays such as the Jewish Sukkot celebrations, we will deliver palms to families who want them to build their temporary dwelling.”

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