Coral Gables

Coral Gables commission to consider fate of old oak tree

On Tuesday, Coral Gables commissioners will hear residents’ appeal of a developer’s plan to prune this 125-year-old oak tree at 1011 and 1015 Lisbon Street.
On Tuesday, Coral Gables commissioners will hear residents’ appeal of a developer’s plan to prune this 125-year-old oak tree at 1011 and 1015 Lisbon Street. MIAMI HERALD FILE

A developer’s plan to prune a 125-year-old oak tree has worked its way to the Coral Gables City Commission.

Developer Palmcorp wants to prune the tree to make room for a house it is building on Lisbon Street. But neighbors say the developer’s plans will kill the tree. The city’s Board of Architects approved the developer’s plan in June, but neighbors have appealed to the City Commission, which will hear the case on Tuesday.

For months, Jorey Friedman, an architect who has lived on the block from the tree, and about 60 other residents, have worked to fight against Palmcorp Development LLC, the Miami-based company that purchased the lot on which the oak sits.

The property, which was split into two lots, is the boyhood home of the late Sherman Reynolds.

After Reynolds died in 2012, the development company bought the property. They quickly advertised plans to build a 2,300-square-foot home on the 5,250-square-foot lot with the tree.

Neighbors immediately were concerned about the safety of the tree. They believed that the home’s construction would cause serious damage to the tree, eventually killing it.

“The live oak is a protected native tree, [but] it’s not being protected as it should be,” said neighbor Bruce Lecuru. “If more of us in our neighborhood don’t stand up for these trees, we won’t have any.”

Coral Gables’ current tree ordinance includes a section on tree protection during construction that requires a 10-foot radius around the base of the tree.

According to the city, the approved building plans comply with the rules, but neighbors do not believe the city is doing enough. The residents call their efforts “Save Sherman’s Oak.”

The developer plans to remove some roots on three sides of the tree to accommodate drain fields and foundation walls. The developers also would remove part of the canopy to build to designed two-story home.

The neighbors say the developer’s plans could put the tree at risk of falling during the next big storm.

“We are putting all of our trust in our elected officials,” said Lecuru, who lives next door to the vacant lot. “City staff has approved this plan, which we are incredibly disappointed with and we’re trying to save this tree from eventual damage and death.”

Carlos Tosca, one of Miami-based Palmcorp’s owners, told the Miami Herald in July that 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.

City staffers recommended, but did not require, that the developer move the building further away from the tree. Palmcorp declined, but took other steps to protect the tree.

The City Commission will decide the fate of the tree on Tuesday. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way.

“Sherman loved this tree,” said Lecuru. “He would have been horrified to know his property was going to be developed in such a way, that it would cause damage to this tree.”