The fate of a 125-year-old tree in Coral Gables was on its way to a peaceful resolution Tuesday after a developer and neighbors compromised on how to protect the elderly oak.
Developer Palmcorp’s plan to prune the tree on Lisbon Street was tweaked by City Commission members Tuesday, after dozens of residents and at least two arborists objected to the construction of a house that could kill the tree. Palmcorp and the neighbors are set to bring back a proposed agreement that will keep both the residents and the developer happy.
Points that will be proposed at the Nov. 18 commission meeting:
▪ Building three smaller houses instead of one large one on the development site.
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▪ Prohibiting any construction within 25 feet of the tree,
▪ Having two arborists monitor the construction site several times a month.
▪ Prohibiting the trimming of any branches larger than four inches wide.
The proposal will outline how the three properties will be planned, keeping in mind that each property would need space for driveways, septic fields, drainage systems and swimming pools. It will go before the city’s Board of Architects.
The developer originally wanted to make room for a two-story. But neighbors say the developer had no interest in saving the tree.
“When Palmcorp purchased this property, they were very aware that it contained protected trees — but that situation had never stopped them before,” neighbor Bruce Lecuru said. “What they were not aware of, and likely surprised by, is that the Lisbon neighbors also have rights — the rights to ensure the protection of the canopy in their neighborhood.”
Melissa Tapanes, an attorney representing Miami-based Palmcorp, said Tuesday that the developer’s intent always has been to protect the tree. She said the company planned a “reasonable single family home” on the site.
The developer had planned to remove some roots on three sides of the tree to accommodate drain fields and foundation walls. The developers also would have removed part of the canopy to build a two-story home.
Earlier in the meeting, Tapanes told the commission that if the city decided to halt the construction, that “developers will be discouraged from working in Coral Gables and going through this process.”
Commissioner Patricia Keon wasn’t convinced.
“It’s important that you understand that when you buy a property in this city there are ordinances that require protection of specimen trees,” Keon said. “It has been abundantly clear that the visibility of the canopy of our trees is important. It is an issue that you have to take into consideration on your return on investment in this city.”
The property, which was the boyhood home of the late Sherman Reynolds, was split into two lots and sold to Palmcorp for $525,000 after he died in 2012.
The developer quickly advertised plans to build a 2,300-square-foot home on the 5,250-square-foot lot with the tree.
Immediately, neighbors rushed to City Hall, worried about the tree’s safety. They believed that the home’s construction would cause serious damage to the tree, eventually killing it.
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 did not believe that the city was doing enough. The residents called their efforts “Save Sherman’s Oak.”
Bob Brennan, senior arborist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, told the commission that a minimum of a 25-foot radius around the tree was needed to protect it. With him was Jeff Shimonski, a local certified municipal arborist.
“If you want a complete guarantee of no harm to the tree, you’d need to build 100 feet away from it,” Brennan told the Miami Herald. “All they care about is money and their profit.”
Tapanes said the public attention to the matter has “burdened the property owner,” which has been “unfairly demonized throughout this process.”
“In life there are no guarantees,” Tapanes said. “One day you’re here, the next you’re not. That is true with humans, and it is true with trees.”
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