Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, April 29, 2013
City reviews laws that protect the island's trees
City crews will be trained on tree-trimming techniques

The city of Key West has laws against "tree abuse," and 94 tree species enjoy protective status, with the books name-checking the gumbo limbo, buttonwood, royal poinciana, autograph tree and coconut palms as being dear to the island.

As for the invasive Brazilian pepper tree, which torments some yard owners with its rapidly growing brittle limbs and clusters of red berries, no permit is ever needed to cut at will, according to the city code.

It's all spelled out in a 26-page draft of a proposed update of the city's Tree Protection Code, available at www.keywestcity.com, as part of the agenda for Tuesday's 6 p.m. Tree Commission workshop at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

Key West's Tree Commission, comprising volunteers appointed by city commissioners, can order hearings over questionable tree cuts or removals, with the power to render penalties of tree replacements or a fine up to $5,000.

Permits are required in many cases before a tree is taken down, the code states.

Proposed revisions, though, are few. The most extensive rewrite adds mitigation for people who can't afford to replant trees -- and adds to the code a $250 flat "donation" fee per palm tree illegally removed. For a canopy tree, the donation could be $150 per inch of any canopy tree.

The rest of the proposed ordinance contains additions such as: "Climbing spurs shall not be used to trim palms unless a total tree removal permit is approved by the tree commission."

Already on the law books is Key West's distaste for the shallow root system that comes with the standard ficus tree and can lead to disaster during hurricane season.

"No species of Ficus tree, except for the shortleaf fig (Ficus citrifolia) shall be planted on city property," the code says. "Owners of private property are hereby discouraged from the planting of any tree Ficus species."

The care and upkeep of Key West trees, though, sparked a brief yet fierce discussion at this month's City Commission meeting when the subject of the city's maintenance tree-trimming crews arose.

"Someone needs to train them how to trim trees," said veteran City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley. "Apparently they're doing a butchering job on some of the trees on private property."

Greg Veliz, the city's director of community services, said Key West doesn't have professional arborists on the streets but promised a new round of training for the crews.

"We're going to bring all right-of-way crews to train them once again; more importantly to establish a process by which we trim trees," Veliz told the commissioners April 2 at Old City Hall.

"We don't want to cut every tree back," said Mayor Craig Cates. "They look beautiful, a lot of them."

Maybe city policy needs a review, Cates said.

"There is a policy, it's clearly state in the code," Veliz said. "If you tell us to go out and cut to code, we're going to go out and cut to code."

Tuesday's workshop is part of the city's solution.

"We will follow up on this," said City Manager Bob Vitas. "It's all about training and communications."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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