'Massacre at Tivoli Lakes': Mahogany trees taken out at retirement community

Article Courtesy of  The Palm Beach Post

By Mike Diamond   

Published May 5, 2021


Tivoli Lakes has begun removing 277 mahogany trees, much to the chagrin of some residents at the west of Boynton Beach retirement community.

“You could say we are in mourning,” said Ben Kass of Noceto Way. “These trees were so beautiful. We call it ‘the chainsaw massacre at Tivoli Lakes.’”

The trees were scheduled to be removed last November but a lawsuit filed by the TREE committee at Tivoli Lakes forced a postponement. The litigation was recently settled with both parties agreeing to pay their own legal fees. The HOA’s insurance company has paid more than $35,000 to lawyers to defend the lawsuit.

The dispute between the HOA and those who want to keep the trees shows no signs of going away. Kass is the plaintiff in a new lawsuit filed Friday that seeks an emergency order from a judge to stop the removal of the trees. Kass’ lawyer, Barry Silver, also represented the TREE committee.

But this time, the target of the lawsuit is the county Zoning Division for issuing the tree-removal permit in the first place. The lawsuit alleges that the county is not enforcing its own policies to ensure that healthy mahogany trees are protected from being taken down.

Mahogany trees line the main boulevard at Tivoli Lakes west of Boynton Beach.

The Kass lawsuit calls on a judge to rescind the permit “to stop the immediate devastating, irreparable harm that is occurring right now at Tivoli Lakes.”

The new lawsuit argues that the mahogany trees are native to Florida, are listed as a threatened species and are effective at combating climate change. Their canopies provide extensive shade, their leaves absorb heavy rains and they clean the air by sequestering carbon.

At issue, according to the lawsuit, is the HOA’s application to the county, which the lawsuit claims is “fraudulent,” noting that it falsely listed the address for all the trees as being at the Tivoli Lakes Clubhouse and fails to acknowledge that some of the trees are on the private property of residents.

Tivoli Lakes HOA President Don Myers said the street-tree roots have severely damaged streets and sidewalks, resulting in a repair bill of $150,000 during the past five years and a number of slip-and-fall lawsuits.

“We are trying to protect our community,” he said.

Tivoli Lakes saga: Residents file lawsuit to block removal of 272 mahogany trees

After the TREE committee failed to obtain a temporary injunction in January to block the project, the HOA moved ahead with plans to replace the trees with foxtail palms, taller trees with smaller canopies that will not provide the shade protection of the mahogany trees.

The work began April 26. It is expected to be finished by June. The trees along the main boulevard already have been removed.

Developers are now prevented by county planners from installing trees near streets and sidewalks. And communities, such as Tivoli Lakes, are permitted to remove them if they can show that the street trees have caused damage.

Drew Martin of the Sierra Club says the county should be expanding tree-canopy coverage, not allowing it to be reduced. Since 2015, the county has issued more than 150 permits to communities to remove street trees. In the past three years alone, Valencia Palms, Valencia Cove, Buena Vida, Valencia Reserve, and Canyon Lakes removed approximately 3,000 street trees with the permission of the county.

Silver likened the tree-removal programs to going to a dentist to treat a cavity and the dentist takes out all of your teeth. He maintains that too many trees are being removed under the guise that they may someday become a problem. He is currently consulting with Valencia Falls residents who are trying to stop the removal of street trees in that community.

While Silver failed to obtain a temporary injunction to block the Tivoli Lakes project, Circuit Court Judge Donald Hefele urged the HOA to be “circumspect in the wholesale removal of these trees. How many of these trees are actually causing a problem?”

Hefele also warned certain experts may have a financial interest in what they recommend. Kass noted that the HOA used an arborist to survey the condition of the street trees who has done work for the HOA. “They (HOA) were supposed to work with us to select someone neutral but that never happened,” Kass said.

The HOA-hired arborist, Dennis Frangione, found that all but eight of the 277 trees needed to be immediately removed and the other eight within a year. Myers defended Frangione, saying he has no conflict of interest, noting that his report cost Frangione a $20,000 trimming contract.