Battle of the Trees: Palm Coast Slams Lawsuit’s “Inaccuracies” By Citing Inaccuracies of Its Own
FlaglerLive | August 14, 2013
Palm Coast has issued an unusually long and defensive press release in response to resident Dennis McDonald’s filing of a request for an injunction to stop the potential and actual uprooting or removal of trees around the Palm Harbor shopping center, saying the “lawsuit” McDonald filed Aug. 8 “contains many inaccurate and misleading statements.”
The press release does not cite either inaccuracies or misleading statements, however. When asked to specify the basis of the accusation, Cindi Lane, the city spoksewoman through whose office the press release was issued, responded: ” Because it’s a lawsuit, we cannot go into further detail at this time.”
In fact, both the press release and McDonald’s injunction are guilty of some inaccuracies and misleading statements.
There are obvious inaccuracies in McDonald’s court action, such as the reference to Feb. 20 and March 10 approvals of setback variances “through its city council,” with “aforementioned city council minutes attached.”
There were no city council meetings on either Feb. 20 or March 19. There was a Planning Board meeting on Feb. 20, when a variance order relating to a the Dunkin Donuts property further west on Palm Coast Parkway was approved. (The planning board is delegated to represent the city council, so a reference to the city council as approving the order is not inaccurate per se.) The variance reduced natural buffers from 35 feet to 11 feet, a significant reduction that may apply the length of the Parkway project and that McDonald says sets a bad precedent. It also enables the city to remove trees (and replant more elsewhere) as part of the six-laning of Palm Coast Parkway. (See the presentation about the variance below.)
There was no meeting of either the council or the planning board on March 19, and the March 20 meeting of the planning board did not consider issues relating to the parkway widening. Rather, the March 19 action or document McDonald’s injunction refers to is an order by City Manager Jim Landon–an “administrative deviation” relating to the Wells Fargo property closer to the Palm Harbor shopping center. The order was signed by City Clerk Virginia Smith and Landon, but never formally approved by either planning board or city council. That’s not unusual, either, as such orders are at times carried out by the administration.
Three laurel oaks are being removed by the city from in front of the Wells Fargo property, to McDonald’s dismay. In this case, it’s the city that’s purveying inaccurate information. At the Aug. 13 meeting of the city council (a workshop) Landon briefly talked about the removal or laurel oaks, there and further west on the Parkway, belittling opponents of the removal and predicting that once the city gets further west, there would be more complaints about such tree removal. Landon said that laurel oaks are quite different from live oaks, in that laurel oaks have a much more limited lifespan, that they age, become brittle and start shedding limbs as they die off–all accurate. But Landon put that lifespan at 30 to 40 years.
He was off by about 30 years. According to the University of Florida’s extension service, “Laurel Oaks have a life span of 50 to 70 years.”
So while the city is justifying its removal of stately laurel oaks from along Palm Coast Parkway under the claim that they are approaching their life’s end, it is doing so on the assumption that those trees were planted around 1980 (the roundabout year Landon mentioned during the meeting), and that they arre in their early 30s. Going by UF’s ecidence, those trees would still have at least 30 years of good life (and shade) to give, through at least 2030 or 2040. (The University of Florida’s extension service also provides a good illustration of the difference between live and laurel oaks here.)
In its news release, the city writes that “the natural tree canopy along Palm Coast Parkway that creates the beautiful tunnel will not be touched as a result of the upcoming street widening project.”
That’s a straw man: the city is referring to something the McDonald injunction does not address. Rather, the McDonald injunction refers to the removal or cutting down of trees “on the premises of and surrounding the Palm Harbor Shopping Center in the Parkway East area of Palm Coast.” It refers to the potential of losing a canopy of mature trees–which, by the city’s own admission, is inevitable when older trees are replaced with younger trees, as will be the case even as the city replants more trees than it uproots. The handsome canopy may return, but not for many years.
In the news release’s words: “For the street widening from Cypress Point Parkway to Florida Park Drive, 395 trees in the City right-of-way will have to be replaced. Most of those are palm trees that are currently being relocated to parks and other public landscapes within the City. A few large laurel oaks near the intersection of Palm Coast Parkway and Old Kings Road will be replaced, but those trees are already approaching the end of their natural life expectancy and would have to come down in the next few years anyway, said Palm Coast Urban Forester Carol Bennett. To mitigate against the removal of these trees, 458 new trees will be planted in that 1.23-mile stretch of the parkway – well over what’s required of the City by the code.”
The city leave silent the fact that buffering square footage, now green, will be replaced by asphalt and concrete because of the widening.
“We love trees, we appreciate trees, and we know the value of what trees provide to our City,” Bennett said in the release, which notes Palm Coast’s eight-year run as a Tree City USA. “It is our goal to protect mature trees and to promote the planting of new trees, so that our tree system remains strong over time.”
The McDonald injunction makes an inaccurate connection between the marking of trees and their “imminent” removal. Trees have been marked in the Palm Harbor shopping center for surveying, not necessarily for removal. Such rem,oval has not yet been discussed, because no plans for the center have been submitted to the city, beyond conceptual proposals
“Once the City receives an actual site plan for what is proposed for the redevelopment, city staff will meet with the developer to determine which trees can be protected and which trees will have to be replaced,” the release states. “At the time of redevelopment, the City believes many trees will be preserved and that Palm Harbor Shopping Center’s appearance will be more attractive than ever with enhanced landscaping.”
Addressing McDonald’s injunction explicitly, the release states: “As to the complaint filed last week by Dennis McDonald, it is the city’s position that it contains inaccurate and misleading statements, and the city will vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit. Mr. McDonald has a history of criticism against the City and previously tried to stop last year’s landscaping and signage improvements at the gateway at the eastern end of Palm Coast Parkway, near the toll bridge.”
The council only briefly addressed the matter at a workshop Tuesday when Bill Reischmann, the city attorney, mentioned it. “The city will have many opportunities to aggressively challenge the substance and the way that the lawsuit is currently structured,” Reischmann said, stopping short of going further.