Two historic live oak trees in the New Smyrna Beach Regional Shopping Center survived hurricanes Matthew and Irma only to meet their doom at the Aug. 26City Commission meeting.
In a 3-1 vote, with Vice Mayor Jake Sachs voting no and Mayor Jim Hathaway declaring a voting conflict, the five-member commission approved a request by Lakeland-based Publix Supermarkets Inc. to remove the trees from the parking lot of the State Road 44 store.
City land development regulations classify any live oak with a 36-inch, or greater, DBH (diameter at breast high) as a historic tree that requires approval by the City Commission to remove.
The long-surviving trees, one measuring 37.5 inches and one 44 inches DBH, were spared by the city in the 1980s when Southeast Volusia's largest shopping center was built.
Publix also plans to remove four other oaks in the parking lot that are "slightly smaller" and would not require City Commission's approval, according to statements made relating to the application.
The majority vote was the second in two months with commissioners overriding the recommendation of city staff to deny requests to cut down a historic live oak.
In its Aug. 8 meeting, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve
a property own-er's request to fell a heritage live oak from the soon-to-be-vacated Chrysler dealership property at the corner of North Dixie Freeway and Industrial Boulevard. Vice Mayor Sachs also voted no on that tree removal request.
The owner, TT of NSB, stated the broad-crowned tree, estimated to be about 150 years old, was in the way of a storage facility planned for the property.
In recommending the Publix request to remove the two historic trees be denied, city staff argued the 1980s building site plan and current site development requirements for the shopping center, were "specifically intended to preserve these trees, which have remained in place for the 30-some years after that effort (to preserve them) was made."
In Publix's letter requesting permission to remove the live oaks, city staff pointed out no specific reasons were cited by the property owner, "with the assumption being that it is due to the trees being in the path of future site/parking lot reconstruction."
Professional engineer Tom Murray, representing the supermarket chain, provided drawings suggesting about 80 younger, nursery grown trees and additional landscaping would eventually replace the older trees throughout the shopping center parking lot. If that happens, city staff recommended a minimum replacement tree size above the current 2.5-inch caliper (or diameter), or a minimum 4-inch up to 6-inch.
As a general rule, a 1-inch caliper tree would be about 8-feet tall, while a 3-inch caliper measurement could mean a tree could be about 14-feet tall. However, this varies according to the type of tree involved, experts say.
In addition to the city staff's decision to recommend denying the tree removal request, the Volusia County Environmental Management Department also was asked to conduct an informal review by a certified arborist. The opinion of the county specialist was six live oaks in the Publix parking lot, including the two historic trees, could be saved with minimal "physical efforts."
A private arborist report submitted by Publix referred to "the results of a tree health evaluation" of all six trees, four of which were slightly smaller than the two historic live oaks and did not require City Commission approval to be removed.
The arborist found "all six oaks evaluated are in fair condition," with an additional comment that "live oak trees are resilient and these oaks could live for a long time."
Other, and less optimistic, comments in the private arborist report stated the trees "remain in parking lot islands that provide minimal space for root growth; have been slowly in decline and have had consistent limb dieback due to limited growing space
and it is unlikely they will recover and grow back into aesthetically pleasing canopied trees."
The property owner's arborist evaluation of the trees concluded the shopping center would benefit long term by replacing the trees with nursery-grown live oaks.
In response, city staff pointed out the trees have survived various deteriorating conditions over the years, "and thus staff concurs with the (private arborist) statement that live oak trees are resilient and these oaks could live for a long time."
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