A Sarasota couple stands up against effort to remove oaks from neighborhood

Article Courtesy of  Sarasota Herald-Tribune

By Carrie Seidman

Published April 12, 2023


Few residents in the 103 households of Greenfield, a subdivision at the corner of Wilkinson Road and Honore Avenue, attend the monthly homeowners' association (HOA) meetings. Desiree Moulton and Roger Metz have rarely gone since they built their home in 1994 – when Honore ended at Bee Ridge Road and didn’t run behind their back yard, as it does today.

But in late February, they learned a “repair” of the subdivision’s perimeter retaining wall mentioned in meeting minutes would entail something much more significant: The HOA had targeted for removal 37 mature oak trees, most of them planted by the developer more than 30 years ago. A contract to cut them to stumps had been negotiated at a cost of $70,000, to be paid, in part, by a special assessment to all residents. Work was scheduled to begin in April.

Two of the threatened trees are in Moulton and Metz’s back yard.

“They called it a wall repair,” says Metz, “then all of a sudden it was ‘37 trees have to come out.’ Most people didn’t even know about it – some still don’t. Everybody seemed pretty surprised that, in this day and age, anyone would even think about doing something like that.”

Moulton, 70, and Metz, 62, attended the next HOA meeting in March. The board said five arborists had confirmed the trees were the cause of several points of wall damage and that they had considered, but rejected, other solutions. Those included repairing just the damaged segments in the wall (incurring risk of future deterioration and/or liability); cutting the tree roots (rendering the trees unstable and a hurricane risk); or tearing down the wall (which, according to deed restrictions, the HOA is required to maintain).

To allow for more “discovery,” they had postponed the removal to June.


Moulton and Metz are among the residents who pushed back.


Step into their back yard and you’ll understand why. The two oaks – approximately 60 feet tall and 40 inches from the wall – offer a shady haven for birds, squirrels and insects. Their wide branches, which form a canopy with the trees in the median of Honore, keep the house and yard cool and buffer the sound and smell of traffic. A waterfall cascading into a pond where carp the size of a grown-man’s forearm swim in circles is surrounded by colorful orchids.

Desiree Moulton and Roger Metz stand next to one of the two Grand Oaks in their backyard targeted for removal by the Greenfield HOA Board.

“These trees are a complete and total pain in my (expletive) once a year when they drop their leaves and those fuzzy things,” admits Metz, who filled 38 bags with leaves this year. “But they are so worth it. If they took these trees out against our wishes, I wouldn’t want to live here anymore.”

Moulton, an admitted “tree hugger” whose father once owned an oak farm in the east county, was more combative.

“If they take them out against my will, they will have a lawsuit,” she says.

The couple rejects the notion the trees caused the vertical crack in the wall behind their home. That was from a vehicle that crashed into the wall from the Honore side years ago.

To bolster their case, they hired Teri Graham, an International Society of Arborists (ISA) certified arborist – and a former consultant to the city of Sarasota on the Pink Floyd Grand Oak in Arlington Park – to look at their trees and walk the subdivision perimeter. Based on her assessment, Graham says, “I don’t believe the trees are causing the damage.”

“It’s not consistent with anything I’ve seen before where a tree has caused wall damage. Typically, a crack from a root comes from the bottom up . . . and if it’s major, you will clearly see the root that caused it and the ground lifted. There’s no indication of roots there at all.”

Graham also executed the formula involving circumference, height and canopy to confirm Metz and Moulton’s trees are Grand Oaks. Grand Trees require a permit for removal that can only be granted if every attempt to work around the tree has been exhausted.

An arborist for the HOA requested a “pre-application assessment” with Sarasota County staff to determine if permits were required, but according to the county, no application has been filed to date. Regulations state trees on owner-occupied lots are exempt from permits – unless the trees are Grand Trees – but can only be removed with owner permission.

The board has encouraged residents’ acquiescence since “the HOA will never again fund removal of the trees” and any future damage or liability will be at the expense of the homeowners. An email sent to all Greenfield residents this week said the board was “meeting with impacted homeowners,” but Metz and Moulton say no one has contacted them.

The board declined an interview request. It also demanded I leave an HOA meeting I tried to attend to better understand its position and sent an email stating “this is a matter that deals with private property owners and a private Homeowners Association so the project will be handled in that manner.” Residents who asked to see the report from the “five arborists” were told to submit their request in writing, by snail mail.

“Frankly, I’m just flabbergasted the HOA thinks they can just determine they will take out that many trees, charge the homeowners, not share the reports from the arborists, assess everyone extra for covering it, and then leave the stumps and who will pay for mediation to replant other trees,” Graham adds. “None of it really makes sense. I’ve never seen an HOA do something like that.”

Meanwhile, as Moulton and Metz watch the dogs they foster chase each other around the scattered oak leaves in their back yard, the resolve to preserve their green oasis grows ever firmer.

“I’m willing to die on this hill,” says Moulton.

Echoes Metz: “They are not taking out our trees. Period.”