Tree removal has residents up in arms


Article Courtesy of The Boca Raton News

By Dale M. King
Published on July 14, 2005


Nestled in south-central Boca Raton, the Parkside subdivision is a quiet neighborhood where birds sing, retirees bike the tree-lined roads – and the only odd sound is the occasional, distant wail of a train whistle.

Right now, though, the chatter of buzz saws is ringing along the perimeter of the complex on Military Trail and West Camino Real.

Many residents were shocked and surprised when Zimmerman Tree Service settled in this week to remove the 184 ficus trees along the wall that shades Parkside from the world outside.

Homeowners have raised a ruckus about the tree removal, contacted a lawyer seeking court intervention and plastered the neighborhood with fliers. And they are planning a mass meeting Sunday night to continue strategizing.

Residents say they just found out about the work. Amy Segel, a leader of the anti-tree removal effort, said she was able to get about 100 people together on Fourth of July weekend to protest. That, she said, shows the fury of homeowners.

But neighborhood association president Jim Daniel said the board decided months ago to remove the ficus trees – many of which are either sick or were damaged in last year’s hurricanes.
“Eventually, all of them will have to come out,” he said.

According to Daniel, Zimmerman charged $108,000 to take out the 52 trees that registered arborist Donald Goulding determined were sick, neglected and storm-damaged. But for $125,000, Zimmerman would take out all the ficus trees, and the association board opted to take him up on the offer.
“It was a pretty damn good price,” Daniel said. “And we would have to do it anyway.”

But residents are demanding a cease-fire, saying they want some time to digest what’s going on.

But it may be too little, too late, according to Allen Libow, the lawyer for fellow Parkside residents.

“By the time we get an injunction and find a judge to hear it, the work will be done,” he said.

Libow said the tree removal – a decision made by the homeowner association’s board – has become a matter of “mowing them down.”

“Residents may want a new board,” he said. “They are furious.”

“Would it hurt to wait a while?” asked Segel, who is leading the charge she and her husband Martin said has the backing of most of the 203 Parkside residents.

But Daniel said no. Another hurricane season is here – and South Florida has already dodged nearly a half-dozen cyclonic bullets. The trees have to come out.

Besides, Daniel said, the seeds for the tree removal were planted last fall.

“We lost a few in the hurricanes,” he said. “Six or seven of them were pulled out of the ground or were left leaning. One smashed the wall in front and hit a house.”

“It disturbed the people who live along the wall” that surrounds the gated development, according to Daniel., and residents petitioned to get the trees out.

Goulding examined all 184 trees and reported on their condition in a 24-page document. Homeowners picked up on his comment that the trees suffered “poor maintenance practices over their lifetime” and blamed the board for the finding.

According to the Segals, the city granted Parkside 18 months to come up with a tree replacement plan – far longer, they feel, than should be allowed. In fact, it appears most residents feel the board should have had a tree replacement plan in place before they started.

Daniel said the board “intends to do it a lot sooner” than the 18 months allotted by the city.

Some homeowners said the tree removal issue may have political roots. Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell lives in the neighborhood. And some allege he has used his influence to get the trees out and streamline the permitting process.

The Boca Raton News could not reach Ahnell for a comment. But Daniel said the city manager “lives two doors down from me.”

“He has never asked for input,” Daniel said. “I don’t even know how he feels about trees.”

Martin Segel said Ahnell “has been suspiciously quiet” about the tree issue. “He has been absent from the whole process,” he said.

Amy Segal said a good compromise would have been to “take out the dangerous trees first.” But many are healthy. “They withstood two hurricanes last year,” she noted.

She called the association board “unresponsive,” which sent them to an attorney for help.

Daniel said the tree removal continues, despite a confrontation between the Zimmerman workers and residents Monday morning that required a call to police.