By Jane Smith
Delray Beach is on its way to living up to its brand of being a safe haven for trees.
In early August, the Delray Beach City Commission unanimously approved an updated tree ordinance making preservation the No. 1 priority.
“If there is a specimen tree on site, we want developers to plan around that tree rather than disregard that tree in their plans,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said Aug. 2. “It comes back to: Are we penalizing enough financially to have the developer comply?”
Planning Director Tim Stillings said, “Yes, ultimately, we’d rather have the tree than the money.”
However, the city decided it needed an ordinance with more bite because several projects downtown were removing trees and the developers were just paying the penalties, Stillings said.
Stillings presented in the updated rules a list of fees the property owner must pay when removing shade trees. For trees with a trunk diameter of more than 18 inches at breast height, the fee would be $1,000 per diameter inch.
Previously, the fee was $100 per inch regardless of trunk diameter.
Delray Beach has a tree canopy of about 20 percent citywide, but its goal should be about 40 percent, Stillings said.
Vice Mayor Jim Chard asked about the policy of allowing developers to replace a hardwood tree with three palms. Stillings said the preservation ordinance calls for like kind replacement — a hardwood for a hardwood.
“The city’s landscape code allows three palms to replace a hardwood, but that’s only for 25 percent of the trees removed,” he said.
The ordinance demands that developers must try, in order, to leave the shade tree where it sits; to keep the tree onsite; replace it with a tree of equal size if it must be removed; and as a last resort, remove the tree and pay the fee.
At the second August commission meeting, Chard brought up another option: He wants to start a tree gifting program where developers donate mature trees to public spaces in the city, such as parks, schools and water retention areas.
That option would be No. 4, ahead of removing the trees and paying the fees. The developers would also pay to move the trees, Chard said.
The city’s planning department will bring back the amendment at a future commission meeting.
Chard said Swinton Avenue and Linton Boulevard have projects with large trees. Swinton Commons/Midtown Delray Beach has 200 trees, he said. The Sports Authority shopping center and the Lavers International Plaza on Linton Boulevard also have mature trees.
Chard recently was behind the moving of three yellow tabebuia trees from the iPic project site in the downtown to the Achievement Centers for Children and Families on Northwest Fourth Street.
Twelve royal palms, also from the iPic site, were moved to Lake Ida Road, near the retention pond.
The tabebuias, about 20 feet tall, were severely cut back for the move, Chard said. The royal palms also had most of their fronds removed for the move.
Chard became a shade tree advocate through his work with Human Powered Delray.
“We need shade trees if we want people to get out of their cars and walk and bike,” he said. “Mature trees can be worth several thousands of dollars to a city.”