Florida Keys

You CAN fight City Hall. Just ask the tree

A near-century-old mahogany tree on Simonton Street in Key West was saved by city staff Tuesday night after public outcry over the city manager’s request to have it removed, citing traffic safety.
A near-century-old mahogany tree on Simonton Street in Key West was saved by city staff Tuesday night after public outcry over the city manager’s request to have it removed, citing traffic safety. Keynoter

Key West delivered a Valentine to tree lovers on Tuesday night.

City employees decided to save a near-century-old mahogany tree in the 1100 block of Simonton Street rather than try to obtain the Tree Commission’s approval to remove it by branch and root due to its lower-than-federal-regulations branch clearance that has snagged at least one semi truck’s roof.

“The city is looking at options including putting up warning signs and marking the tree branch,” said Karen DeMaria, the city’s urban forestry manager who handled the application, after Tuesday’s meeting.

Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz withdrew the application for tree removal at the Tree Commission’s 5 p.m. meeting. Instead of cutting down the 1923-era tree, which sprawls across public and private property and drapes across Simonton Street directly across from the Gato Building.

The low-hanging branch, which is short of the federal government’s 14-foot-tall vehicle clearance minimum, trapped a delivery truck last fall, costing Key West more than $9,300 in damages paid to the truck’s owners. A tow truck had to remove the stuck truck.

City Manager Jim Scholl moved to have the tree cut down but a locals’ campaign rose up to save the mahogany, which has three trunks. Anonymous bows and signs reading “Help! Save me!” were affixed to the mahogany’s bark over the weekend.

“Tonight was a wonderful victory for all of Key West,” said Karen Ludwig-O’Leary, a tree commissioner and outspoken advocate of tree-saving. “They heard the public outcry loud and clear. This was emotional for many, myself included. We must protect our historic trees.”

“An example of city staff doing everything possible to accomplish what is best for our community!” City Commissioner Sam Kaufman posted on Facebook after the news. “Thank you city staff!”

Henry Fuller, a Key West native, called the decision a Valentine’s Day gift.

“Wow, there’s still hope,” Fuller posted.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

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