Summer 2007 – Trees are a neighborhood asset & how you can save them

Guest Column By Joan Tumpson, Brickell Resident

Perhaps you like me have felt helpless seeing yet one more of the majestic trees that once lined Brickell being cut down, or brutalized with a “hat-rack” trim. You assumed that if the tree was on private property, there was nothing you could do. WRONG!

Lucky for us, the City of Miami has strict laws limiting or prohibiting the removal or overly-aggressive trimming of trees whether or not on private property. The City seeks to protect, preserve and restore the tree canopy here, and has laid out a wonderful Ordinance to enforce this policy: Zoning Ordinance Article No. 8.1.

treeordinanceI live at 2180 Brickell, directly to the South of 2110 which had been sold and its buildings leveled in the last two years. Several huge, old Mahogany trees remained on the property. These trees have been a joy for me during the 25 years I have lived next door.

By accident, then, I saw a small, posted notice attached to the property’s iron gate, stating that the new developer had been granted permission to cut down five of these trees, unless someone, within 10 calendar days of the posting of the notice, appealed. I stumbled a bit, but after a number of phone calls and visits to city agencies, I appealed and at this point, the official decision is to save three of the five otherwise doomed Mahoganies.

This is how I learned about the process and I urge you to read on and to be vigilant as well, for saving a tree confers grace and benefits our neighborhood, our city and our neighbors.

First, it is not true that because a tree is on “private property,” it can be cut or abused at the order of the owner. The owner must obtain a permit from the city to cut down, move or “effectively remove through tree abuse” most trees. If new construction is contemplated, the Zoning Department must first determine that no tree-removal permit is required before a building permit can be issued. And a permit is required to trim more than 25 percent of a tree’s canopy.

If you see a tree being cut or trimmed, ask to see the permit. If no permit is available, call our NET office (Liza Walton at 305-329-4750) or the Department of Code Enforcement at 305-329-4770, and report the activity. They are wonderful people, will send someone to stop any improper activity and/or tell you what to do.

As for me, I saw the notice on a Friday, and had only five days to act. I called our Net Office and from there, called and visited Code Enforcement (at 1300 S.W. 12th Avenue and then Ms. Providencia Velazquez at the City Planning Department, Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, 305- 416-1459). Ms. Velazquez was extraordinarily helpful, and I am grateful to her to this day.

The process was not difficult. I went to Code Enforcement (thank you Code Enforcement Officer Del Valle for your help and direction), reviewed the developer’s application for a permit (Tip: I took my camera and photographed some of the plans which are too large to photocopy), then wrote a brief letter stating I was appealing the decision to allow the developer to cut down the trees and why.

I took the “appeal” (only two pages) to City Planning Department Office, filed it and then went in search of an arborist. This is a tree expert who will look at the trees, form a professional opinion, put it on paper and come to the hearing to testify. I was extraordinarily lucky to find Arborist Lisa H. Hammer. (lisaahhammer@bellsouth.net) Lisa was painfully fair and had appeared many times before HEP Board hearings. She knew the territory and was respected by the community. She was great.

Finally, some of my neighbors and our association president were kind enough to come to the hearing itself and testify. The entire process was very impressive the Board Members were genuinely interested and very fair. I think my primary contribution to saving the three trees was the decision to say little myself and let Lisa Hammer do the talking.

It is not hard and you can save and/or protect a tree if you see one in jeopardy. My best advice is to call any of the people mentioned above, or just call me at 305-856-2114 immediately. One cannot delay, for once the tree is destroyed, it is gone. Email: tumpson@aol.com

BHA thanks and congratulates Joan for going “above and beyond” to protect our neighborhood assets!

From BHA News, Summer 2007, Vol. XVII, No. 2