South Miami

City extends tree cutting moratorium until Jan. 6

The South Miami city commission has unanimously agreed to extending a moratorium against cutting or killing all trees, with certain limited exceptions, until the city’s existing tree protection ordinance can be amended to provide better protections.

“The people are upset that people are buying up lots and cutting down the trees,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “I don’t think they mind someone building a new house, but they would like maintaining the tree canopy in the neighborhood.”

The city’s previous moratorium expired Nov.1. Two days later, the commission declared a new moratorium, this one until Jan.6.

Carlos Tosca, co-founder of Palmcorp Development Group, said his company analyzes properties with tree surveys and has an arborist look at sites before tree removal.

“We analyze the property,” Tosca said. “We determine what trees, if any, need to be analyzed. If necessary, we have an arborist go and identify the trees to see which ones are sick, healthy, unhealthy or whatever. We do a tree survey and then we abide by whatever the local jurisdictions rules and regulations are in terms of tree removal and mitigation to accommodate the site plan that we intend to use to build the houses.”

Tosca said tree risk harm by being moved.

One of Tosca’s properties, at 6520 SW 56th St., contained about 200 trees before being cleared. The trees — numerous species with some reaching 70 feet high — were all in poor condition. The developer must plant new trees, according to South Miami landscape code requirements.

“The tree canopy is a community asset,” Stoddard said. “From the homeowner perspective, it’s your tree and it’s on your property. But from the neighborhood perspective, it’s part of the fabric. I think people feel that folks are coming into the city who have not lived here and are cutting down the tree canopy.”

“It feels like an invasion,” he said.

Palmcorp plans to start constructing homes on the property in the next six months, Tosca said.

“There is absolutely a plan to plant new trees,” Tosca said. “It’s all part of the mitigation plan. The requirements that you have to put on a new house, plus in addition to that, you have to put your mitigation trees around it. For sure everything has been followed correctly as indicated by the city and the county. When it’s all done, there will be beautiful trees that are well maintained with the property owners paying property taxes and everything else as required.”

Stoddard said the commission wants to make sure there are better protections in place before more permits are requested.

On Nov. 18, Coral Gables city commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance saving a 125-year-old Oak tree on a Palmcorp property on Libson Street.

“We want to be able to do the same thing,” Stoddard said. “We needed to have a better procedure in place where the emphasis was strictly on tree preservation rather than mitigations for trees that people wanted to cut. The next step is to put in place a revision to the tree ordinance that has preservation as the first approach.”

South Miami City Manager Steven Alexander said an improved version of the tree protection plan will go up for first and second reading before the commission.

“It’s pretty critical that we get the message out to the guys with the chainsaws,” Commissioner Bob Welsh said at the Nov. 3 meeting. “We can pass as many laws as we want … but unless every guy coming into the city with a chainsaw knows what they can do, what they can’t do, and what’s going to happen to them if they do what they can’t, then our trees are going to suffer.”

Tosca said the South Miami lot that contained a lot of sick and dead trees were removed “little by little for a long time.”

“Under the new mitigation plan, we would still be able to do what we did,” Tosca said. “[One thing] the new mitigation plan deals with is people who take out trees without a permit, and how that gets handled. We certainly didn’t do that.”

South Miami held its state of the city address Nov.19.

“The residents really wanted to see the trees protected so that’s why I sponsored a moratorium to stop cutting some of the more precious species until we get better protections in place,” Stoddard said.